Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Did Kids Go Hungry Because of the Blizzard?

Executive Director

Executive Director

The school lunch program is an increasingly important source of nutrition for low income children.   In 2007-2008, 32,000 District children received free or reduced lunches each day and 16,000 received breakfast.  Thanks to recent legislation, the federal government will fund evening meals for low-income children as well.  The demand on these programs has likely increased with the recession.

Despite the high rate of participation in free and reduced lunch programs, hunger remains a problem in the District.  Nineteen percent of the District’s population participates in the Food Stamp program, yet a recent study found that one-in-four families with children had trouble securing adequate nutrition.

When it snows and schools are closed, this important source of food is cut off.  What happens to the children and their families who are already at risk from hunger when a week goes by and the breakfasts and lunches that they rely on are not available?

Despite all the criticism that the school lunch program receives – poor nutritional quality, inadequate funding, over-use of processed foods – it is an essential tool to make certain that children are fed.  But the storms last week show that there needs to be a strategy to ensure that there is more food in the home as well.

The District Council has already mandated that the Food Stamp program be expanded to serve people whose incomes are at or below 200% of poverty (up from 133%), but the Department of Human Services is dragging its heels.  An increase to the embarrassing low TANF payment would also assist families to have greater nutritional security.  Currently, a family that receives both TANF and Food Stamps survives at just 50% of the federal poverty level.

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  • Jonathan Smith on Feb 18, 2010

    Kate: Thanks for the comment. You are absolutely right. The issue is much bigger than food. I have great sympathy for school officials when they are faced with the decision of whether to close because of snow. It is a tough balance between the risks of transporting kids in bad weather against the loss of the services and stability that school can provide.

    The Poverty and Policy blog also had a great entry on nutrition programs:

  • Kate on Feb 16, 2010

    I was safe and comfy during the recent snow, but I did worry about those who weren’t, including children who didn’t get to benefit from the structure and safety that school provides. In addition to food programs, schools also provide heat, a necessity during winter. Imagine how many families get by because they don’t heat their houses during the day or who don’t have the money to heat at all. Either they are going to be even more crunched at the end of the month or they and their children went cold last week. – K