An estimated 982,000 students could no longer be eligible for free school lunch and breakfast if a proposed rule by the US Department of Agriculture gets enacted, according to ABC News.
The planned change follows an analysis of school lunch data showing that the existing criteria for free lunch eligibility wasn’t being enforced across the board. To qualify for free school lunch, a family of four must earn less than the poverty threshold of $25,000. The Trump administration claims that hundreds of thousands of families that have requested free lunches for their children earn more, thus disqualifying them from the benefit.
The administration said it aims to close that loophole, arguing the new rule would save around $90 million.
The rule would require roughly half of the 982,000 families to pay a reduced price for school lunch and breakfast, 40 cents and 30 cents per meal respectively. Another 445,000 would remain eligible for free meals — they would just have to file additional paperwork proving their financial status, a hurdle that could stifle many families from applying, according to advocates. An estimated 44,000 students would have to pay full price for meals.
Advocates for students argue that the rule will make school more difficult for hundreds of thousands of students, affecting their grades and overall potential.
It also runs counter to the growing trend in the US to make school lunch more accessible to students. In recent years, states like California have passed measures to end the injustice of school lunch shaming, and others, such as New York, have made school lunch and breakfast free for all students, recognizing that food is a human right.
More than 37 people throughout the US are unable to get enough food each day, including more than 11 million children, according to the nonprofit Feeding America.
While hunger at any stage of life severely impairs a person’s ability to function, children are especially harmed by a chronically empty stomach.
Students who go to school hungry struggle to retain information, focus on the curriculum, and participate in class. They may also experience behavioral problems and mental illnesses that make school even more challenging. Over time, chronic hunger can diminish a student’s ability to get good grades, graduate, and pursue higher education and a career.
The National School Lunch Program, which includes free lunch and breakfast programs, covers an estimated 30 million students.
The proposed rule will be opened to public comment for two weeks. It’s expected to be part of a broader push to limit access to free school lunches, according to Business Insider.
Advocates in the fight to end hunger will be working to prevent the new rule from taking effect, while at the same time making school lunch and breakfast available to more students.
"There is definite momentum on the path to end hunger," Lisa Davis, vice president of Share Our Strength, an anti-poverty nonprofit, said in a statement. "We must not allow new policies to reverse this positive trend."