Islamic Relief USA has long considered food assistance programs as a necessary solution to address child hunger. This is especially the case during the summer months, when schools are not in session and students, particularly those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch during the school year, risk going without a fulfilling meal. The programs help millions.
Despite its apparent success, there remains skepticism and spotty support from those in power. The most recent is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, he has expressed opposition to including an extension of a pandemic-era free school lunch program in a package to continue funding the federal government.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sounded the alarm by saying “kids are going to have less on their plates” upon learning there was hesitation among some Congressional lawmakers about extending the program.
The program in question is a federally funded Agriculture Department program launched last April that provides free meals to all grades K-12 students, regardless of income, through the end of June. Agriculture Department officials said the program would reach an estimated 12 million kids who are considered food-insecure. But if the program is not extended, it stands to lose 40 percent of funding for school lunches, putting kids’ access to nutritious meals at stake.
While we are relieved to see fewer cases of coronavirus and Covid-19–the very things that initially produced support in Congress for this particular problem– child hunger remains a stubborn problem. There are no free vaccines available to cure food insecurity unfortunately. But availability of child nutrition programs clearly has been a reliable outlet for millions of kids for decades.
Sure there may be cases where there’s waste, where good food goes unnoticed by the kids and is regrettably discarded. And, even more unfortunate, there remain some programs that have been suspected of fraud, as reported in the New York Times, with some program directors allegedly using government funds for themselves.
This calls for greater oversight and vetting, not a wholesale elimination of a program. We hope lawmakers realize the greater good such programs provide, and while it may be financially costly, it’s best perceived as an investment for the future. Healthy meals create healthy minds, and a more productive citizenry that produces salubrious economies.
As in any negotiations, there are trade-offs and compromises. But can’t we find other areas besides those involving kids and their nutritional intake? Is there really no place else to look? That’s the most compelling question. And in the wealthiest nation in the globe, it’s sad it event has to be asked.