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Don't Jeopardize Students' School Meal Eligibility, Democrats Tell Ag. Secretary

school-lunch-line.jpg

Democrats on the House education committee called on U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to halt a proposed change to SNAP rules that could end automatic free school meal eligibility for half a million children

In a Monday letter commenting on the proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as "food stamps," all 28 committee Democrats chastised the Trump administration for failing to mention the projected effect on school meals when it submitted the rule for public comment in the federal register.

"The effect on school meal eligibility represents a societal cost that the Department must consider in its review, so that stakeholders have the opportunity to comment on all aspects of the rule's impact," the letter said.

As we wrote when the rule was initially proposed in July, children in SNAP-enrolled families are "directly certified" for participation in federally subsidized free school meal programs without filling out a separate application. By the administration's own estimate, as many as 500,000 students who qualify for free school lunches through SNAP could lose that eligibility if the rule change is finalized.

And in schools were large numbers of students automatically qualify for free meals through participation in SNAP and other federal anti-poverty programs, meal programs may qualify for a federal program called community eligibility, which allows all students to obtain free meals without qualifying individually. Child hunger groups have said such provisions cut red tape and ensure poor children who need help recieve it without unnecessary hurdles.

But if some families lose SNAP eligibility, it could start a domino effect that pushes their children off school meals, Democrats wrote to Perdue. And, if enough children in one school lose school meal eligibility they gained through SNAP participation, it could put that entire school's community eligibility in jeopardy.

The proposed SNAP rule would add more restrictions to a streamline enrollment process for families who participate in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Perdue has said that the eligibility changes are necessary to prevent "abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it." Some states apply the SNAP flexibility so broadly that some families qualify even though they only "nominally" participate in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program he said.

Under the rule change, state would have to prove that the non-cash benefits familes receive through TANF be "both ongoing and substantial" to qualify them for SNAP benefits through the simplified process.

The Agriculture Department received 78,740 comments on the proposed rule before the comment period closed Monday, most of them critical.

Photo: Students pick up their lunch at Barre Town Elementary School in Barre Town, Vt. --Toby Talbot/AP-File


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