Photo: Amanda Mills/Pixnio

Thousands of children in California would no longer qualify for free school lunches if a federal proposal to cut the number of food stamp recipients is finalized.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is asking for public comment on a proposal to restrict the number of families eligible for food stamps to only those with gross incomes of 130 percent of the federal poverty level (about $33,000 for a family of four) or less. Currently many states, including California, allow families with higher incomes (up to about $50,000 for a family of four) to enroll in the food stamp program if their child care, housing and other eligible expenses bring their income down to about $25,000 or less.

Families who would no longer qualify for food stamps under the new rule will also lose their automatic eligibility for free school meals. Currently, families enrolled in food stamps are automatically eligible for free lunch, so they do not have to apply separately. If this change is approved, many families that no longer qualify for food stamps could still qualify for reduced-price meals at school, but they would have to submit paperwork to apply.

Confusion is likely to ensue.

Jared Call, managing policy advocate for California Food Policy Advocates, said schools are supposed to notify families when students no longer qualify automatically, but often the notices are not sent, or families misunderstand them or do not apply.

“If they’re cut off and keep getting those meals, they may end up with a bill that their parents don’t understand why or where it’s coming from,” Call said.

It’s not clear yet how many children in California would be affected. The USDA estimates that 3.1 million people nationwide would lose food stamps under the policy change. According to U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott(D-Va.), the USDA also estimates about 500,000 children would lose automatic eligibility for free school lunches, though the department did not include this estimate in the proposal.

About 2 million children in California are in families that receive food stamps. There are no estimates yet of how many of those might lose eligibility if the new rule is approved.

The administration says the change is necessary to prevent fraudulent applications for food assistance.

“Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a press release announcing the proposal. “The American people expect their government to be fair, efficient and to have integrity — just as they do in their own homes, businesses and communities. That is why we are changing the rules, preventing abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it.”

Education experts and advocates for low-income families are concerned about how the change could affect children.

“The California Department of Education is very concerned about the Trump administration’s proposal,” wrote Scott Roark, a spokesman for the department, adding that the department is still analyzing the impact.

The proposal would also affect students at schools that serve free breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of their household income. Those are schools in which 40 percent or more of students qualify for free lunch either because they are enrolled in a program like food stamps or because they are homeless, foster or migrant children. There are more than 3,000 schools in California that offer free meals to all students.

Call, of California Food Policy Advocates, also is concerned about what he called a “cascading effect” that could affect school funding if a large number of children lose their free lunch eligibility. Under the Local Control Funding Formula, schools receive extra funding for each student who qualifies for free or reduced-price school meals, as well as English learners, homeless students and foster children.

The Trump administration proposal is the latest in a series of attempts to reduce federal benefits for low-income people.

Last year, the administration proposed a change that would make it harder for immigrants to become permanent residents if they are likely to use benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps. In May, the administration proposed changing the rate at which the federal poverty level increases each year, based on inflation. The proposal could reduce the number of people considered low-income and would affect families’ ability to access other services, including Head Start, a federal early education program for young children.

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  1. Carolyn Bennett 1 month ago1 month ago

    Please let people know there’s a comment period and contact info can be found at:
    https://www.fns.usda.gov/fns-national-office

    I would call these listed numbers:
    Chief Operating Officer
    703-305-2064
    Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion
    703-305-7600
    Child Nutrition Program
    703-305-2054
    Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
    703-305-2022

  2. EZ 1 month ago1 month ago

    This country should remember the poor , the disabled and elderly. It could be you one day. We need to invest in our children. They are our hope.

  3. Mel V 3 months ago3 months ago

    I worked approving this program for our school district of 21,000. Just because someone no longer has food stamps doesn't mean they still can't get free meals. I had people who I know we're 50K to 75K with 2 incomes still get free lunch. Even though it's says it's a felony to lie, the magic number is $400 a week when people apply. They know that rarely are the incomes listed correct; they lie....but administration … Read More

    I worked approving this program for our school district of 21,000. Just because someone no longer has food stamps doesn’t mean they still can’t get free meals. I had people who I know we’re 50K to 75K with 2 incomes still get free lunch. Even though it’s says it’s a felony to lie, the magic number is $400 a week when people apply. They know that rarely are the incomes listed correct; they lie….but administration is encouraged to ignore the income.

    The Sunnyside District I worked at in Tucson had principals, teachers and other staff helping them lie. The higher your percentage on free meals, the larger your Title 1 grant money is.

  4. Charlie 4 months ago4 months ago

    Remember the phrase "There is no such thing as a free lunch"? Why is it the responsibility of a school to feed our children? I like how the standards for parenting are dropping day by day. I don't need to feed my child, discipline my child, tell my child what gender they are, provide any guidance whatsoever. If it feels good, do it. Yup, the Tide-Pod munching participation trophy generation sure … Read More

    Remember the phrase “There is no such thing as a free lunch”? Why is it the responsibility of a school to feed our children? I like how the standards for parenting are dropping day by day. I don’t need to feed my child, discipline my child, tell my child what gender they are, provide any guidance whatsoever. If it feels good, do it. Yup, the Tide-Pod munching participation trophy generation sure are producing a bunch of winners.

    Hey California, you’re number 46 in the nation for education.

    Replies

    • Ellie 3 months ago3 months ago

      So you think taking away kids meals is going to improve the state of education in California? I think not. Free school meals help to lift families out of poverty, ultimately having a net-positive impact on the economy.

  5. Ann 4 months ago4 months ago

    Why do journalists continue to misreport this change? U.S. Department of Agriculture's option of “broad-based categorical eligibility” which expands SNAP eligibility and assistance to 'non-cash or 'in-kind' benefits is a loophole that will be closed under the new rule. These include welfare brochures and toll-free numbers. The result has been anyone authorized to receive a brochure, suddenly a “benefit,” was eligible for food stamps, regardless of income or assets. States no longer had … Read More

    Why do journalists continue to misreport this change? U.S. Department of Agriculture’s option of “broad-based categorical eligibility” which expands SNAP eligibility and assistance to ‘non-cash or ‘in-kind’ benefits is a loophole that will be closed under the new rule. These include welfare brochures and toll-free numbers. The result has been anyone authorized to receive a brochure, suddenly a “benefit,” was eligible for food stamps, regardless of income or assets. States no longer had to check the eligibility of these enrollees. Now only those whose true eligibility has been verified will receive SNAP benefits. Isn’t that a good thing?

  6. Linda 4 months ago4 months ago

    When California Lottery began many years ago it was supposed to be giving money to the schools. That money should be used so all kids in California get free meals in school. Instead that money somehow never makes it to the schools.

  7. Daniel Distrola 4 months ago4 months ago

    Wow, our so called President is the worst. Cut taxes for multi-millionaires and takes food away from poor children. Can we just hurry and vote this guy out already?