Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

School Lunch on the Chopping Block

By Nicole SochaczevskiPublished January 1, 2017

The Trump administration plans to cut funding for free and reduced-price lunches in public school across the United States.

On January 23, 2017, just three days after President Trump's inauguration, the House of Representatives introduced Bill H.R.610. The bill puts forth two proposals: the Choices in Education Act of 2017 and the No Hungry Kids Act. While the former aims to establish an education voucher program, the latter act directly targets the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and Obama's Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010.
In 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed into law the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act in an attempt to absorb farm surpluses, while at the same time providing food to students. This act led to the formation of the NSLP, which aims to provide free or reduced-price school lunches to qualified students through subsidies to schools. In 2012, the NSLP operated in 100,000 public and nonprofit private schools across the nation, serving meals to more than 31 million school children every day.
    During Obama's presidency, particularly under the guidance of the former first lady Michelle Obama, three separate actions were taken in an attempt to reduce child hunger in America which acted as adjuncts to the National School Lunch Act. First, Obama vowed to invest $12 billion over ten years (beginning in 2017) in an effort to curb child hunger during the summer. He introduced a permanent Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program which would "provide supplemental food benefits during the summer months for all families with children eligible for free and reduced price school meals." Second, The United States Department of Agriculture introduced a new initiative to allow "interested State agencies that administer the NSLP to use Medicaid data to certify students for free and reduced priced lunches." The goal behind this action is to simplify the paperwork involved in qualifying a student for the free or reduced-price lunches. Third, and most notable, the Obama administration implemented the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. This law amended the NSLP for the first time in 30 years. It aimed to improve the nutritional value of meals offered in schools and secure hunger safety nets for millions of children by adjusting the standards for food sold in schools during the regular day, including lunch and vending machines, by increasing access to the NSLP, and by improving the monitoring of the program.
    According to the Trump administration, however, Obama's excess spending did not do much to solve the issue of child hunger and instead made it more difficult for schools to comply with the NSLP standards. The added specifications regarding sodium levels, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and snacks were described by the GOP's House Freedom Caucus as "burdensome and unworkable" rules. The No Hungry Kids Act, outlined in bill H.R.610, will repeal the law that "requires schools to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat free milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat in school meals; and meet children's nutritional needs within their caloric requirements." Increased ‘plate waste' due to children not wanting the eat the healthier options on their plate was the only justification that the House of Representatives presented in support of their proposal.
    In conclusion, though no further action has been taken in regards to implementing bill H.R.610, it is vital to consider the drastic health concerns that could arise from a proposal such as the No Hungry Kids Act. This act would not only jeopardize the health of students from low-income families - the largest portion of children eligible for free or reduced price lunches come from families at or below 185% of the poverty threshold - but completely counteract the commendable progress made by Michelle Obama to reform the healthy school food standards and implement an updated Nutrition Facts label as a part of her fight against childhood obesity and her Let's Move! campaign.