By Paul Slack, Steven Delzer, Marcus Lohrmann and Brant Copeland As religious leaders, we teach that it is our duty as a community to love one another as God loves us. God proclaims, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Yet, the “Golden Rule,” central to America’s family and faith values, is fading from our political consciousness as intolerable inequities play out across our country. Among the most egregious of these is the hunger disparity between white children and children of color.
The House Education and the Workforce Committee, has the power to change that by introducing the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, already closing racial hunger gaps and making significant progress toward ending child hunger and food insecurity in America. The 2015 CNR, which authorizes all federal child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch program, the Women, Infants and Children program and Child Care Food, is set to expire on Sept. 30.
Yet these Congress members, who have the power to positively impact the lives of millions of children, are holding back.
One Congress member, for example, denied meeting requests with his own constituents, pastors, bishops and community leaders on the issue feeding hungry children — even when the latest polls such as the Kellogg Foundation 2015 School Food poll show 9 out of 10 people in the United States support the national school nutrition standards. That is not only failing his constituents, but also failing our nation.
According to recent federal analysis, a majority of our country’s public school students come from low-income families. Fifty-one percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-13 school year were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, according to the Southern Education Foundation report, and an estimated 21.5 million children actually received free and reduced-price lunch in 2014. In Minnesota, an estimated 175,000 kids live in poverty and 38 percent receive free or reduced lunch, which is half of their daily food intake.
Niya is 6 years old and started kindergarten last year at Marcy Open School in Minneapolis. Her family faces high food costs and limited access to groceries. There are times when her parents have to make the impossible choice between paying the bills and providing food. As a result, she receives most of her meals at school.
Her parents rely on the school cafeteria to provide the nutritious, healthy foods she needs.
Niya’s situation is far too common and is magnified in communities of color where one in four households of color are food insecure compared to 1 in 10 white households.
If Congress fails to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act more than 31 million children in Niya’s situation will go hungry this fall.
As leaders in the PICO National Network faith community, coming from more than 1, 200 congregations across the country in 21 states, we are calling on Committee Chairman John Kline, all House Committee on Education and the Workforce Members, including Reps. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla.; Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio; Frederica S. Wilson, D-Fla.; and all members of Congress to reauthorize and strengthen the Child Nutrition Act. This will multiply current successful outcomes that close the racial hunger gap, increase in healthy food consumption and help effectively fulfill nutrition standards.
In 2010-11, white middle school students nationwide were 2.3 times more likely to have access to healthier food options than those in more racially diverse schools. The national nutrition standards successfully closed the racial gap in access to healthier lunches in its first year.
Since the nutrition standards were enacted, fruit and vegetable selection and consumption has gone up. In fact, 66 percent of students are taking fruits with lunch in 2014 compared to 54 percent in 2012; 64 percent are eating more of the vegetables, and 84 percent, compared to 71 percent in 2012, are eating more of their healthier entrees.
Ninety-five percent of schools nationwide meet the healthier meal standards rolled out by the USDA in 2012.
Protecting our children and feeding the hungry is central to our faith. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” The Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization is a commonsense solution. If Congress fails to act, our children will go hungry.
Niya, and millions of schoolchildren like her, are counting on you all to do the right thing.
Pastor Paul Slack is president, ISAIAH in Minnesota; Bishop Steven Delzer is from Southeastern Minnesota Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); Bishop Marcus Lohrmann is from Northeastern OHIO Synod (NEOS) of the ELCA, Ohio; and Rev. Brant Copeland is from the First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee, Florida.