Marble Falls One report after another indicated that a remarkable thing was happening in the midst of the pandemic that was upending the country, the economy, and all of our lives. Because of various stimulus programs, particularly the direct payments to families with children, child hunger was experiencing unprecedented decreases. That was then, this is now.
The child subsidy programs were not renewed and have expired with an unclear future, despite its amazing impact on poverty, health, and family stability. Other programs initiated to offset the impacts of the pandemic are also in danger, for example the support for in and out of school feeding programs for children. Many may not fully understand the critical role school feeding programs play in the fight against child hunger, but it’s vital.
I talked to Crystal Fitz Simmons, who directs the team at FRAC, the Food Research & Action Center, that focuses on school feeding programs on Wade’s World to get a better understanding of the impending crisis they are now marshaling forces to meet. We all know about school lunches, some of us more than others. Our union, represents a huge number of cafeteria workers in the Houston, Dallas, and other school districts, so we deal with these issues on both sides of the counter, so to speak. USDA provides the funding for these programs for not only free-and-reduced priced lunches for eligible children, but for additional programs that are maintained by districts for school breakfasts before the bell rings and for snacks and other food support after school as well. There are also summer programs to boot. For many lower-income children these meals are essential. The pandemic closed many schools, so as part of the stimulus, not only was there more money to support these programs, but Congress passed a waiver allowing the USDA to more flexibly adjust the rules to allow more children to benefit, access to be extended, sometimes even with cards allowing meal purchase. FRAC is a vital part of the effort to get this waiver extended for another year.
When I had gotten the notices about this issue, I felt I had to respond, partially because of my long relationships with FRAC. In 1970, when I founded ACORN, FRAC, funded one of our early organizers, Herman Davenport, to expand the organization to Pine Bluff and other areas. I knew its executive director then, Ron Pollack, from my days as a welfare rights organizer, where he had been an important legal advocate for NWRO. I once slept on his couch on a visit to DC at his invitation. He had worked in the civil rights movement in Sunflower County and knew Drew, Mississippi, where my mother was born and raised, and I had frequently visited as a boy. In short, we go back, and it was a pleasure to see that he is still on their board. I felt like I owed them still.
FRAC’s request is simple, but important. Contact your Senators and Congressional delegation and ask them to approve a waiver for an additional year to bridge the gap as children transition from the pandemic with schools still unsettled. One year. Why not? Do it on your own, or contact FRAC at frac.org and hit the button for comments on the waiver, and it will send your message to your representative who needs to do the right thing for children on this waiver. We have to be the lobbyists for children. We can all make a difference now.