Food insecurity for children has become an unfortunately common problem in the United States, but a recently introduced bill by a group of Senate Democrats could potentially provide numerous families relief.
Unsurprisingly, the bill has drawn a significant amount of online criticism, particularly from Republicans.
Senators John Fetterman, Sheldon Whitehouse. and Peter Welch introduced the School Lunch Debt Cancellation Act , which would would wipe out student meal debt for kids across the United States by applying the debt under the USDA’s National School Lunch Program and reimbursing them.
The announcement post by Senator John Fetterman, and others on X, formerly known as Twitter, has a plethora of quote tweets and replies criticizing the Bill’s existence claiming that it would make the public “too reliant on the government for assistance” or that the responsibility of feeding a child should be strictly the parent’s issue and not others.
In a press release on Monday, Fetterman explained that school lunch debt appeared when a child “can’t afford to pay for their meal at school but receives a meal anyway, with the amount owed added to the child’s tab.”
“‘School lunch debt’ is a term so absurd that it shouldn’t even exist. That’s why I’m proud to introduce this bill to cancel the nation’s student meal debt and stop humiliating kids and penalizing hunger,” Fetterman said in a statement. “It’s time to come together and stop playing political games with Americans’ access to food. September is Hunger Action Month and I’m proud to be introducing this bill to help working families now, while we work to move our other priorities to combat food insecurity in our nation.”
School Lunch debt and the push for universal free lunches has grown in the past few years with eight states; including Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Maine, Vermont, Michigan, and New Mexico; having a permanent universal meal program. While it’s seen as a noble goal by many, the opposition towards these universal meal programs has hardly died down, exemplified by the fight for school lunch in North Dakota earlier this year.
The Republican-led Senate passed Senate Bill 2284 in April, a bill that would use $6 million to cover meal costs for students from low-income families over the next two-year budget cycle and bar schools from publicly identifying or punishing students who fail to pay lunch debt. A similar bill was voted down the previous month by one vote, with those who opposed it voting for boosting reimbursements for state workers.
“Yes I can understand kids going hungry, but is that really the problem of the school district, is that the problem of the state of North Dakota? It’s really the problem of parents being negligent with their kids,” said Senator Mike Wobbema.
Luckily, due to public outcry, their decision was reversed in April with many blaming the media for “twisting” their criticisms of the bill. Regardless, battles for better food security in the US continue to be fought across the country and if the new bill introduced by Fetterman and others manages to pass, it will be a significant edge in getting children access free healthy meals.