State Legislation Could Address Hunger Among Kids
Update: We’re excited to say that the Community Eligibility Program bill passed unanimously in the Washington Legislature and was signed in early March by Governor Jay Inslee. The measure requires schools to participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s CEP if eligible and it provides state funding to offset any district costs.
We’ve heard much about Build Back Better, the Voting Rights Advancement Act and other legislation that pols have debated (read: wrangled) at the federal level in Washington, D.C. But, quick: Can you name at least one bill being considered among lawmakers at the Statehouse in Olympia?
At United Way of King County, we make it our business to know. In alignment with our state policy agenda, we are active in helping craft legislation we believe addresses some of the most pressing needs of our county and our state–including bills focused on education, hunger and food insecurity.
We’re calling on you to pay close attention to two bills that could go a long way in addressing hunger among school children: House Bill 1878 and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 5798.
If passed, the measures will reduce food insecurity by requiring eligible schools to participate in the federal Community Eligibility Provision. The provision, also known as CEP, allows schools with high numbers of low-income students to serve free breakfast and lunch to everyone without collecting school meal applications. CEP is available to public, private and tribal schools.
According to the Washington, D.C.-based anti-hunger campaign No Kid Hungry, CEP enables students to eat breakfast and lunch at no cost while eliminating unpaid debt for meals. It reduces schools’ administrative burden by eliminating both applications and tracking of unpaid meal charges.
Currently, there are 491 schools (approximately 204,000 students) in Washington operating CEP. HB 1878/SB 5798 would provide state funding to schools to cover costs not funded by the federal government. The law, if passed, would mean that at least 646 additional schools in the state would be mandated to serve free breakfast and lunch.
That means at least 92,000 additional students would be guaranteed at least two meals each school day.
“We all know that hungry students struggle to learn and thrive,” said Lauren McGowan, United Way associate vice president, ending homelessness & poverty. “The pandemic has increased the financial challenges many families face and shown a light on the deep inequities in our state. Over the last two years the school meals have been a lifeline for students and families. We need to continue this.”
The pandemic has increased the financial challenges many families face and shown a light on the deep inequities in our state. Over the last two years the school meals have been a lifeline for students and families. We need to continue this.Lauren McGowan, United Way associate vice president, ending homelessness & poverty
United Way has joined school officials, lawmakers and anti-hunger groups in advocating for HB 1878/SB 5798. On Thursday, the house bill passed the House Education Committee unanimously, and the Senate K-12 Committee is scheduled to vote on the measure on Friday. The next step will be the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means Committees.
Full passage would culminate work of several organizations who are working to help bring the measures to fruition, including the Washington State Anti-Hunger & Nutrition, the School Nutrition Association and the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
“United Way and our partners are committed to ending childhood hunger across Washington,” McGowan said. “Too many Washington students miss out on school meals because of the cost and stigma associated with them— leaving hungry children in our classrooms and federal dollars on the table. CEP changes that. It increases participation in school breakfast and lunch, reduces stigma, eliminates unpaid meal fees, improves financial viability of school meal programs and makes it easier for both families and schools.”
We then teamed up with local school districts to pilot Breakfast After The Bell programs. In fall 2021, Breakfast After the Bell launched district-wide in Tacoma Public Schools, Kelso School District and West Valley School District (Spokane) with United Way support. Now we are supporting legislation to expand access to free school meals.
HB 1878/SB 5798 is one of four measures outlined in our state policy agenda that we believe will help break the cycle of poverty locally and statewide. We know that federal bills—and the bipartisan drama that comes with them— are so much a part of the vernacular they become household names. During this year’s truncated state legislative session, we say make it your business to follow a bill that could keep 92,000 kids from going hungry.