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Food insecurity is 'growing at an alarming rate' among children, lawmakers warn

Stephanie Asymkos
·Reporter
·3 min read

Lawmakers from both parties are asking the federal government to intervene on the food insecurity crisis wrought by the coronavirus pandemic that is threatening the health of millions of school children.

“As the COVID-19 crisis continues, the number of food-insecure children is growing at an alarming rate,” the letter signed last week by 14 military veteran members of Congress and sent to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “bringing into reality the long-term dangers of leaving children malnourished.”

The bipartisan letter signed by 10 Democrats and four Republicans asked the USDA to renew waivers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and waive the programs’ eligibility requirements for as long as the national emergency declaration of COVID-19.

The renewals would bridge the gap between the end of the summer program and when schools can safely and fully reopen for instruction.

PARAMOUNT, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 06: A pamphlet with 2020 census information is included in a box of food to be distributed by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to people facing economic or food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic on August 6, 2020 in Paramount, California. Around 2,500 motorists were expected to collect the food boxes which included the pamphlet urging recipients to complete the 2020 census as the spread of the coronavirus continues. The problem of food insecurity is increasing with almost 30 million respondents telling the U.S. Census Bureau they did not have enough to eat at some point during the week ending July 21. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
A pamphlet with 2020 census information is included in a box of food to be distributed by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to people facing economic or food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic on August 6, 2020 in Paramount, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

‘School year is just bringing additional concerns for families’

Schools around the country have postponed start dates and instructional methods from in-person to online, or a hybrid arrangement. Without full-time in-person instruction, students who otherwise would have received free or reduced breakfast, lunch, snacks, and sometimes dinner from their districts are now food insecure for up to 15 of the 21 weekly meals.

For Arkansas, New Mexico, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Vermont, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, the USDA extension would mean a lifeline for students and their families as schools in those seven states and territories are under state-ordered closures.

“The start of the school year is just bringing additional concerns for families,” Sari Vatske, executive vice president at Feeding South Florida told Yahoo Money in July, remarking the “uncertainty” about instructional methods for returning to school and how students will receive nutritional benefits.

‘We must act now’

Children, some wearing face masks as a preventive measure, pick up free lunch at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia on March 16, 2020, after schools in the area closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. - Stocks tumbled on March 16, 2020 despite emergency central bank measures to prop up the virus-battered global economy, as countries across Europe started the week in lockdown and major US cities shut bars and restaurants. The virus has upended society around the planet, with governments imposing restrictions rarely seen outside wartime, including the closing of borders, home quarantine orders and the scrapping of public events including major sporting fixtures. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Children, some wearing face masks as a preventive measure, pick up free lunch at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia on March 16, 2020, after schools in the area closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

In the absence of jobs, continued government relief, and school-sponsored meals, families around the country are hurting. Since March, food banks around the country have responded to an increased demand — as high as 171% in one city — with no signs of slowing.

“The level of demand we're seeing now is roughly what we'll be seeing through the end of the calendar year is what we're projecting,” Brian Greene, president of the Houston Food Bank told Yahoo Money in July.

One in 4 children are predicted to be food insecure in 2020, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit dedicated to hunger relief, a statistic the lawmakers cited in their letter.

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The long-term dangers of malnourished and underfed children translates to poor academic performance and health problems like stunted growth and an increased risk of obesity, chronic illness, asthma, and anemia, extending through adulthood, the lawmakers wrote.

“We must act now,” the letter concludes, “to allow necessary innovations, made possible by these waivers, to our nation’s school and summer meals programs, which will help ensure that our youngest generation is on track for a secure and prosperous future.”

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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