Schools say American children are hungry

PHOENIX (AP) – America’s schools say children are going hungry – as pandemic-era benefit programs have collapsed. There is growing concern about the effects on children’s ability to learn.

Congress temporarily made free school meals available to all American students, but since then which ended last fallthe need only seemed to grow.

Food prices on the rise adding stress to families who are seeing reductions in many types of financial assistance. A federal program that ends this month had given nearly 30 million Americans extra food stamps during the pandemic.

School cafeterias usually do not turn away a hungry child, but debts for unpaid school meals have been on the rise – demonstrating the level of need, and raising questions about how schools will continue to feed everyone, without federal money to do so. The neediest children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, as they were before the pandemic, but qualifying for these benefits requires applications that have not been required for several years.

“Programs that provide direct food assistance are very critical and we’re going to see the effects of not having them in the next couple of months,” said Megan Curran, policy director for the Center on Poverty and Social Policy. Columbia University.

In the last academic year, with almost all schools operating in person, the number of school meals served to students jumped dramatically, and was slightly higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to a report Thursday from the Food Research and Action Center. Already, he said, states are now reporting drops in the number of meals served.

More than 34 million people, including 9 million children, in the United States are food insecure, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, which means they lack consistent access to enough food for every person in their family to be healthy.

Children in such families are more likely to struggle academically and repeat grades, among other challenges, according to researchers.

For fourth-grader Fabian Aguirre, it’s hard to think about math equations when he sits in class with a growling stomach.

When he arrives in the morning, Fabian eats the breakfast served by the school in South Phoenix, but he can get hungry in the classes before lunch. The days he doesn’t eat first at home, even the meals offered by the school are not enough to keep him sane.

“It’s hard to focus in class when I’m hungry. Eating helps me pay attention to what I’m learning,” said Fabian, 10.

At his school, VH Lassen Academy of Science and Nutrition, all students are eligible to receive free meals. The Roosevelt School District, where 80% of the students are Hispanic and 12% are Black, covers the meals with the help of a federal program for low-income school communities.

To reach students who might be ashamed of not eating at home, the school recently changed the way it distributes free breakfast. Carts full of prepackaged breakfast meals are rolled out from the school entrance, instead of being stored in the cafeteria.

“We realized that a lot of our students were going straight to the playground and not going to the cafeteria to eat before school, from 7 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. timeframe,” said Jessica Padilla, a math teacher. and sixth grade science. .

While they lasted, universal free meals addressed many concerns about student hunger. There were no documents involved. And the children who needed them didn’t have to worry about the stigma because they were available to everyone. Some states including California they use state money to continue these programs, but most are back to charge all but the most needy children for meals.

When the free-for-all lunches ended, “families were left scrambling and confused,” said National PTA President Anna King. They were not prepared for the documents after two years without it – and many families with children never filled it. them out

It can be difficult for parents to ask for the help they need, said Jillien Meier, director of No Kid Hungry. Immigrant parents, he said, may also avoid filling out forms asking for free or reduced-price meals out of concern that it could bring unwanted attention if they are in the U.S. illegally.

Teachers are often the ones who catch chronic hunger in students.

Martissa Moore, a teacher at Bainbridge Middle School in Bainbridge, Georgia, remembers a seventh-grade student who had her head on her desk during class, picked arguments with other students and struggled to keep up. academy Moore felt that he did not have enough to eat.

Every day of that year, she brought whatever her daughter had for breakfast and slowly saw progress in her reading ability.

“You just do what you have to do for your students because you don’t want them to starve,” Moore said.

Hilary Seligman, senior medical advisor for Feeding America, said it shouldn’t be up to teachers to address child hunger.

“Because we have so much food insecurity among children, we’re shifting that responsibility to the schools,” he said. “But the normal development of childhood is to have access to food at home. This is part of creating for families in America a stable environment where children are ready to learn when they get to school.”


Arleigh Rodgers is a staff member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. She said from Indianapolis. Report for America is a national non-profit service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.


The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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