The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
During the first week of my internship at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), I went to a briefing at the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center hosted by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). The Minority Leader of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, spoke alongside advocates, educators, doctors and parents against a bill titled, “Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016” (H.R. 5003). This bill would weaken programs including: School Breakfast, National School Lunch, Child and Adult Care Food, Summer Food Service, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Programs and WIC programs. Altogether, these programs make up the broad network of child nutrition programs – programs aimed at ensuring healthy food is available to low-income children across the country. The House Education and Workforce Committee marked up and voted out a reauthorization bill that does not do enough to support access to and long-term success of these programs in April.
After the markup, an effort to block grant school lunch programs for three states persisted. Congress reviewed these child nutrition programs through a reauthorization process that provided an opportunity to improve and strengthen programs; however, the latest revision would be an attempt to weaken these programs by weakening the federal government’s commitment to providing nutritious breakfasts and lunches to millions of low-income children at school. One of the most harmful components of the bill was the use of block grants to run the programs
Block grant or “merged funding streams” both set aside a certain amount of funding for safety net programs while also giving more power to the state or local government. It is typical that money given to the state is a set amount, and therefore this “safety net” is limited in its ability to shrink or grow depending on changes in the state or local government.
With block grants, states can set their own eligibility requirements with little supervision from the federal government and therefore can restrict the amount of money that is going towards supporting impoverished people. Additionally, block grant funds are given for a general purpose and the money not spent on helping other people has the potential to be spent on people not living in poverty. We have seen an example of this with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants. It is important to be attentive with allocations of the federal budget, and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act (CNR) is not an area to cut funding.
Children are our future, and they need the proper nutrition and brainpower to keep energy up during busy school days. Programs that provide breakfast and lunch to our students are helping these children and young adults stay focused during the day. According to Maimonides, “a person should see to it that the body is kept healthy and strong in order that they may be upright to know God. For it is impossible to understand and comprehend wisdom when one is hungry and ailing or if one’s limbs ache (Hilchot Deot 3:3).
Therefore, Jewish tradition teaches us that we must act to assist those in need. We have a moral and economic obligation to continue strengthening programs that feed low-income children, and that is why it is important to tell Congress that poverty should be top priority. Another way to help is to fund core safety net programs such as food assistance, housing assistance, and health care. If you are part of an organization you can also join the National Campaign to Oppose the House School Meals Block Grant Proposal by signing your organization onto this statement opposing the block grant provision included in the House CNR bill.
Sara Stahl is a rising junior at The University of Texas at Austin, where she is majoring in Psychology with a minor in Russian. This summer, she is interning at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.