Mitch McConnell Wants to Deny Millions of Kids Free School Lunches: ‘Kids are Going to Have Less on Their Plates’
Congress once again faces a big battle to fund the government and Republicans are doing what they love best: trying to make life as difficult as they can — specifically for poor people, and even more specifically for children. Especially Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose actions sometimes make me wonder if Dr. Seuss modeled The Grinch Who Stole Christmas after him.
I’m wondering this because, on Monday, The Washington Post reported that McConnell and other Republicans are opposing the inclusion of a free school lunch program initiated during the pandemic, sources say.
The deadline of midnight Friday to pass a package to keep the government running and thus avoid a federal shutdown is looming for Congress, Insider reports. As you might expect Democrats are pressing to extend some pandemic-related federal programs in the package, but one Republican leadership aide has already told the Post that extending expiring programs would be too costly.
But at least one Biden administration official is stepping up in the hopes that kids won’t have to go hungry.
“This weekend, I’ve made a request to speak to Leader McConnell and Leader [Kevin] McCarthy,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. “Now, I realize that they’ve got a ton on their plate. But the failure of Republicans to respond to this means that kids are going to have less on their plates. And there’s no reason for this. There’s no reason for this.”
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Helena Bottemiller Evich, who writes for Politico, reported on this issue Tuesday, noting that the School Nutrition Association has fired off 73,000 emails to Congress to urge an extension of the universal school lunch program, and several hundred school nutrition professionals will lobby in-person on Capitol Hill.
NEW: McConnell is forcefully opposing a provision in the omnibus spending bill that would extend waivers that have allowed schools to serve universal free meals during the pandemic, per sources close to the talks.
— Helena Bottemiller Evich (@hbottemiller) March 7, 2022
700 #SchoolNutrition professionals head to Capitol Hill tomorrow to urge support for critical waiver extensions for school meal programs & the students they serve! Learn more: https://t.co/6FLw8MS5PD #LAC22 pic.twitter.com/MSPev2fG2X
— SchoolLunch (@SchoolLunch) March 7, 2022
Last April, a federally funded program provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides free meals for all K-12 students, regardless of income, which was supposed to last through the end of June and reaches at least 12 million kids who are food-insecure, may not be extended. The department estimates that if this happens it will lead to a 40 percent cut in funding for school lunches. This is sad because this is a resource that’s vital for many families.
Of course, sources have told the Post that hasn’t been finalized yet, so it’s not certain if this program will be axed. And let’s hope it isn’t.
As Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders notes:
“In the richest country in the world, it is an outrage that millions of children struggle with hunger every day,” Sanders wrote in a statement. “Every child deserves a quality education free of hunger. What we’ve seen during this pandemic is that a universal approach to school meals works. We cannot go backwards.”
Sanders and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar introduced legislation that would make universal school lunches permanent. That legislation noted 30 million children in the U.S. rely on free or reduced-price school lunches. If the pandemic waiver expires students who come from households with incomes only 130 percent above the poverty line will lose the chance to receive free lunches.
So many people love to say America is the greatest country in the world. But the fact that so many children are going hungry, and the fact that many more will if this program expires, is one of many examples of why that statement is just not true.