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New Bill Would Ensure That Children Are Fed At School Even If They Can't Afford It

Do you remember being a kid and getting ravenously hungry at lunchtime? It's no surprise — growing kids need fuel to play and learn. While lots of families can afford to pay for their kids' lunches, many still can't. That's what makes this story so important.

Depending on the situation, school lunches can vary widely.

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Some kids have lunch made by their parents. Some go home for lunch. Others come from families that can afford to pay. But some can't afford this — and as a result, have to go without.

It looks like things are starting to change.

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No kid, poor or not, should have to go hungry during lunch. Some states and school boards have rules that allow this to happen, unfortunately. But two states are making big changes.

Let's talk about Tennessee.

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In the Volunteer State, 16.7 percent of people live below the poverty line, which places it above the national average. This leads to families not being able to pay for school lunches.

A new bill looks to change that.

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A newly introduced bill, SB606/HB827 proposes protections for students who can't afford to eat lunch. It would stop schools from taking action against these kids, and ensure that they're provided a proper meal regardless of their situation.

It's also known as the "Tennessee Hunger-Free Students Act".

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The bill would also see schools prohibited from putting an identifier (say, a wristband) on kids who can't pay. It sounds like a great idea, as these identifiers could lead to bullying.

It would put an end to debt collectors.

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I had no idea that debt collectors would hound parents for their kids' lunch money, but apparently that's something that happens. SB606/HB827 would put a stop to that if passed.

It isn't the first state to do this.

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School lunch programs are essential, and expecting parents — some of whom are living in poverty — to shoulder the burden isn't always realistic. Sometimes, public money has to get involved.

Let's talk about Maine.

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The northeasternmost state has often see poverty levels below the national average, but a recent trend is more worrisome: even though poverty rates are dropping nationally, they're poised to go up in Maine.

Maine passed their bill a year ago.

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L.D. 1684 passed in January of 2018 with eight endorsements and three dissenters. Much like the Tennessee bill, the Maine legislation seeks to provide every kid with a school lunch, regardless of their financial situation.

It's a big win.


Senator Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, said it's a win for the state, adding, "If a child is not fed, they cannot learn." As we'll see, it's almost a template for Tennessee's legislation.

No more food shaming.

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Much like a wristband that might make a kid stand out, some school lunch programs force poorer kids to eat a cheaper meal, or not eat at all. A bill goal of Maine's bill was to end this practice.

There are still unanswered questions.

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It doesn't quite guarantee every kid a meal. In fact, depending on the school district, a student can still be denied their meal if their account is overdrawn by a certain amount.

It's a start.

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Maine is facing a debt of $350,000 in overdrawn school lunch accounts. But, at the very least, this will keep the kids who can't afford lunch from standing out and, in turn, getting bullied.

Federal help is available.

National School Lunch Program

Under the National School Lunch Program, kids in all 50 states can eat free if their family of four earns less than $32,000 annually. For those who earn between $32,000 and $35,000, reduced rates are available.

What do you think?

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Kids don't have any say over how much their family makes, and it's a shame that some kids are highlighted because of this. Let's hope this leads to an even greater trend.