A paperwork obstacle is denying Maine kids healthy, nutritious school meals

school lunch 4We all know that being hungry can make us irritable, tired, and addled. We only have to watch the recent Snickers™ television commercials to appreciate we are sometimes not at our best when we are hungry. You know the ones: “You’re not you when you’re hungry” where irrationally angry celebrities are transformed into calm, normal people after eating a candy bar.

Now imagine if you are chronically hungry because your parents struggle to put food on the table. And you are too embarrassed to go get your free school lunch because everyone will be looking at you and know you can’t afford to pay for your meal. These kids suffer more than Marcia Brady without her caramel- and peanut-topped nougat covered in milk chocolate.

Congress created the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 to make sure all students can get healthy school meals. It allows schools with a high percentage of students living in poverty  to offer nutritious breakfasts and lunches to all students at no charge, rather than  stigmatizing some. This strategy increases the number of students eating school meals. It makes sure students receive the healthy, nutritious food needed  to improve their grades and succeed in school.

Sadly, administrative paperwork is preventing this program’s universal implementation in Maine.

The federal government funds these meals and schools save time and money by not having to process student meal applications from each student.

But some Maine schools are hesitant to participate in the community eligibility program because they fear they will lose state money. It appears that without the individual student meal applications that community eligibility eliminates, the state may not be able to calculate the state aid provided to economically disadvantaged schools.

Students who are hungry receive lower test scores and are more likely to repeat a grade. They are more often absent and disruptive or inattentive in class. And in the long-term, hungry children are less likely to graduate from high school,  go on to college and in turn will not earn enough to feed their kids. Yet, today cumbersome bureaucracy  is preventing Maine kids from getting two good school meals daily that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

Other states have solved these issues. Almost 14,000 schools nationwide are enrolled in community eligibility. But Maine has been struggling with this issue for almost a year now. And instead of our state agencies working with school districts to find a solution, it seems we need legislation to direct them to resolve this unnecessary delay (see Resolve, To Establish a Working Group To Aid with the End of Student Hunger) and ensure that hunger is no longer an obstacle to Maine kids’ success in school .

Now, I am as cranky as Marcia Brady. Where’s my Snickers?