Friedman Policy Corner: Massachusetts Bill Seeks to Ban School Lunch-Shaming

by Alana Davidson

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute released a report this Spring on lunch shaming in Massachusetts schools. Lunch shaming is when children are denied a meal or given an alternative cold cheese sandwich because they cannot afford the food. Read more about this issue and what legislation has been put forward to address it!

“Denying children food and humiliating them because they are poor are not the values by which most residents of Massachusetts live. We can stop lunch shaming in Massachusetts and by doing so, continue to be the nation’s leader when it comes to education and child welfare.” – Patricia Baker, MLRI Senior Policy Analyst

In public schools across Massachusetts, children line up every day for lunch and fill their trays with healthy, nutritious food. Some children, however, may get to the front of the cafeteria line only to have their lunch tossed into the garbage in front of their friends, or have their hot meal swapped for a cold cheese sandwich because they don’t have enough money for food or have previously accumulated meal debt. A recent report from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) examined meal debt policies across the state and found disturbing results. Schools prohibited students, and their siblings, with meal debt from participating in field trips, graduation and after school activities, and withheld report cards and grades. Even worse, schools referred families with school meal debt to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or referred them to outside loan collection agencies that tend to have high interest rates and fees. These unacceptable “lunch-shaming” policies stigmatize low-income students and their families and leave children hungry and ashamed.

Why does “lunch-shaming” exist in U.S. schools? The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides free or reduced-price meals to children who participate in certain federal assistance programs, are homeless or in foster care, or have an income at or below 185% of the federal poverty line. However, some families that qualify for the program may not be enrolled and even those with an income too high to qualify may still struggle to afford food. Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap found that 33% of food insecure people in Massachusetts have an income too high to qualify for federal assistance programs. The School Nutrition Association found in their nationwide 2016 survey that 76% of school districts had unpaid student meal debt and 38% of schools reported an increase in the number of free and reduced-price meal students who could not afford lunch.

In 2016 the USDA released rules that “no later than July 1, 2017, all SFAs [schools] operating NSLP and/or SBP [school breakfast] must have a written and clearly communicated meal charge policy in order to ensure a consistent and transparent approach to this issue.” However, MLRI’s recent report found that among schools examined 30% of elementary schools and 28% of secondary schools had no publically posted meal charge policies. Still more it was hard to find the policies that did exist, which were in student handbooks or school committee rules. Student handbooks can be hundreds of pages long. Schools need to post their meal charge policies in a place that is easy for families to find and access.

I filed this legislation because no child should be shamed for being hungry. Every child deserves access to a healthy, nutritious school lunch and this legislation will ensure that students in Massachusetts can access the meals they need to grow and learn.” – Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (D. Newton)

It is time for Massachusetts to join New Mexico, California, Oregon and Washington State in banning these shameful practices and ensure that every child in the state is provided a healthy, nutritious school meal regardless of ability to pay. Senator Creem and Representative Vargas hope to do just that with their new bill (S.2390/H.4422). This bill bans all of the following with regards to a child’s inability to pay for a meal or a previously incurred meal debt: throwing out a meal, publicly identifying a student, excluding a student and the student’s siblings from extracurricular activities and school events, withholding reports cards or grades, denying or delaying a reimbursable meal to a student, and charging families fees and costs beyond what is owed for the meal. It also requires that all communication about meal debt is conducted with the parents rather than the child, which is currently not the case.  It should not be the child’s responsibility to deal with this issue, and the DCF should not be notified due to meal debt alone. In addition, the bill works to maximize federal reimbursements and minimize meal debt by outlining how often schools must check and enroll students who directly qualify for NSLP (TANF, SNAP, Medicaid recipients; foster child, homeless, migrant). For the students with meal debt who do not directly qualify for NSLP, schools are required to send parents information regarding SNAP and a NSLP application.

Finally, the bill includes language that schools and/or districts with 40% or more economically disadvantaged students must elect into the community eligibility provision (CEP), with exemptions. This provision came out of the Obama Administration and allows schools where 40% or more of students directly qualify for NSLP to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students. To learn more about CEP, check out the Food Research & Action Center’s guide. Currently, there are many schools in Massachusetts that qualify for CEP but have not enrolled, including Amesbury Public Schools, Conservatory Lab Charter Schools, Fall River Public Schools and Lynn Public Schools. CEP can lead to higher federal reimbursements for schools, increase participation in NSLP, and reduce administrative costs.

The bill has received a committee extension order, meaning it has more time to be acted on by the committee before this session ends (e.g. reported out of committee favorably). There will be a hearing on the bill in May. Call your state legislators and tell them to ban school lunch shaming and to support this bill! You can find contact information for your state legislator here. No child should be denied a healthy, nutritious meal or stigmatized because he or she cannot afford it. Let’s ensure all children in Massachusetts have access to healthy, nutritious food in school so they can succeed today and into the future.

Alana Davidson is a first year MS candidate in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program and one of the founding members of FFPAC. For the last three years she has interned in the anti-hunger field at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Share Our Strength, and End Hunger Connecticut!. Her research and advocacy have centered on domestic food insecurity and nutrition-related issues. Davidson also contributed to MLRI’s anti-lunch shaming report.

The Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) is a student-run organization of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Our mission is to advance evidence-based nutrition and agricultural policies in support of public and environmental health, by equipping students with the skills and relationships necessary to impact policy through advocacy. For more information, or to join FFPAC, please contact friedmanfpac@gmail.com.

 

Friedman Policy Corner: Advocate for Sound Nutrition and Agricultural Policy This Spring … and Then Run for Office!

by Alana Davidson

This spring is the end of the 2017-2018 legislative session in the Massachusetts State House. Read about what this means in terms of advocacy and learn about Friedman’s new student-run organization, the Friedman Food Policy Action Council. Finally, consider if a life in public service is right for you and whether you should run for office!

 

It’s a new year and this spring marks the end of the 2017-2018 legislative session at the Massachusetts State House. State legislators have until February 7th, 2018 to rule on all bills in committee, unless they request an extension. That means legislators decide if a bill “ought to pass”, “ought not to pass” or “study order.” Bills that ought to pass continue on through the legislative process and are considered favorable. A study order means the bill needs to be reviewed further, but most bills that are marked this and bills ruled “ought not to pass” die in committee. Then, legislators have until July 31st, 2018 to pass any bills and get them signed into law by the Governor. These next six months are a crucial time for agriculture, food, and nutrition advocates to make their voices heard. There are currently 208 bills in the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, and over 6,000 bills filed in total. Many of these bills will not proceed forward and several bills have already passed out of committee. To explore the current bills, visit: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/Search.

 

Examples of bills to follow over the next six months:

S.442 An Act Promoting Agriculture in the Commonwealth

This bill establishes two funds: an Agricultural Resolve and Security Fund and a Massachusetts Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Program Fund. The second fund will be used to provide competitive grants and loans to educate, train, and retain veterans working in the agriculture sector across the state of Massachusetts.

H.4050 An Act to Promote the Care and Wellbeing of Livestock

This bill establishes a 13 member Livestock Care and Standards Board, that would include a member from the Cummings’ School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. The board would advise the Commissioner of the Department of Agricultural Resources on humane treatment of animal livestock, including cattle, swine, and poultry. Based on the recommendations the Commissioner can issue any new regulations or voluntary guidance pertaining to the treatment of livestock. This may include comfort of animals, animal health, safety, and the financial impact on farms.

H.2131 An Act Relative to an Agricultural Healthy Incentives Program

This bill establishes a Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Fund administered by the Department of Transitional Assistance and the Department of Agricultural Resources. Through this fund, for every $1 of SNAP spent on fruits and vegetables a person will receive a matching dollar benefit redeemed on their SNAP EBT card.

 

With the current political climate, it is now more important than ever to make your voice heard. What are some ways you can do that this spring? Join Friedman’s new student run organization, the Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC). This organization is seeking to unite Friedman students interested in policy, advocacy, and research to develop skills in lobbying by investigating current legislative issues at the state and federal level, and advocating in support of sound nutrition and agricultural policies. The group will be meeting bimonthly on Mondays at noon and our first official meeting is February 5th, 2018. If you decide to join FFPAC, you will gain experience writing and publishing op-eds, calling and meeting with legislatures, and working with other advocacy organization across Massachusetts and the country. FFPAC will also be hosting bimonthly Policy Chats in partnership with Professor Jerry Mande this spring to discuss current food and nutrition policy issues. The next policy chats will be February 7th and February 21st 2018.

The only way we are going to make evidence-based nutrition and agricultural policies top priorities at the national and state levels is by having conversations with elected officials and by running for office ourselves. If this past year has inspired you or the recent marches have prompted you to think about your future, consider going into public service. If statements from our elected leaders that it’s time to end the SNAP program angers you, go knock on doors and make calls for candidates who will support these programs. If you are tired of hearing about “fake news” and “alternative facts,” speak out in support of science. As students at a policy-focused school, we gain the skills and knowledge to read and analyze policies. We each must ask ourselves, “If I was an elected official, what proposals would I put forward? What change would I want to see?” We are at a pivotal moment in our country’s history. At the federal level, we have welfare reform and the Farm Bill to look forward to within the next year, while at the same time school meal regulations are being rolled back by the USDA and the Secretary of Agriculture says the SNAP program needs more “state flexibility.” We have to decide what kind of world we want to live in: one in which the government helps provide food to those who cannot afford it, or one that leaves it to charity? One in which consolidated large corporations control the entire food system, from what seeds are planted to what products get the best placement on supermarkets shelves? We as agriculture, food, and nutrition policy students have a unique training that can enable us to be effective change makers in food systems and food justice work.

So to my colleagues, consider this your first ask to run for office! No matter if you start small by joining FFPAC or calling an elected official, or go large by volunteering on a campaign or running for office, there are numerous ways you can make a difference this year. So let’s roll up our sleeves, get to work, and make our voices heard.

 

Alana Davidson is a first year MS candidate in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program and one of the founding members of FFPAC. For the last three years she has interned in the anti-hunger field at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Share Our Strength, and End Hunger Connecticut!. Her research and advocacy have centered on domestic food insecurity and nutrition-related issues.

 

 

 

Friedman Policy Corner: Massachusetts’s First Farm to School Awareness Day at the State Capitol

by Alana Davidson

October is National Farm to School Month. To celebrate, Massachusetts Farm to School hosted the first Farm to School Awareness Day at the state Capitol on October 26th. Alana Davidson recounts what happened at the event, and details current legislation that is being considered on Farm to School and ways to get involved and support strong Farm to School programs.  

Dozens of students, advocates, and government officials flocked to the state Capitol on October 26th for the first Farm to School Awareness Day, as part of National Farm to School Month. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 spurred the creation of Farm to School programs to provide grants and technical assistance to schools so they can provide more locally grown food in school meals. This State House event reflected on the progress Massachusetts has made in expanding Farm to School programs, as well as what more needs to be done.

The speakers at the event ranged from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials to state senators. The USDA’s Farm to School Director, Erin Healy, spoke about the importance of these programs, and how the USDA 2015 Census of Farm to School found that 68% of Massachusetts’ school districts participated in these activities. That is 828 schools and 422,072 students! Rob Leshin, Director of Food and Nutrition Programs at the Massachusetts Department of Education, added that Farm to School programs have led to the investment of over $10 million in local foods. The locally grown food is not just being used in school lunch, but also in school breakfast, summer meals, and afterschool snack programs. Leshin also described how some schools are including local seafood in school meals. During lunchtime students get to eat Tilapia, the “Catch of the Day” that was caught that morning. Students learn about local fishermen and where and how their seafood is caught. The chairs of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, Senator Gobi and Congressman Pignatelli, also spoke. They expressed their support for Farm to School programs and recognized the importance of connecting local farmers with students and school meals. Having the support of the chairs is important because they can influence what bills ought to pass out of committee and what amendments are accepted or rejected. Also, if the House and Senate pass different bills, the chair is in charge of the committee that combines the two bills into one final version.

Photo: Alana Davidson. Rob Leshin Speaking

There is currently one bill in the Massachusetts congress that affects Farm to School programs (An Act Relative to Healthy Eating in School Cafeterias, H.3549). The bill includes a three-year grant program to fund kitchen upgrades for one school each year, with the goal of improving fresh food accommodation and storage. Additionally, a four-year pilot grant program will provide funds to multiple schools to increase their supplies of locally grown foods in school meals, and improve student education and engagement around healthy eating. Finally, the bill establishes a School Interagency Task Force that will aim to increase the sustainability of Farm to School programs in Massachusetts, and provide guidance for the four-year grant. This bill has been introduced in the Joint Committee on Education and has had one hearing thus far on July 18th. Next, the bill is “reported out of committee”, which means committee members must decide if the bill ought to pass or not. They have until the third Wednesday of March 2018 to do this. If they decide it ought to pass the bill can then be debated and amendments added before the full House and Senate vote it on.

Farm to School programs help increase students’ access to healthy, nutritious food in schools. They also stimulate local economies by directing money to local farms and fisheries. These programs can be expanded by providing more funding to schools to increase educational activities, improve kitchen equipment, and strengthen local food systems through greater procurement policies with local farms.

If you are a supporter of these programs, contact your state members of Congress and tell them to support H.3549 and strong Farm to School programs! To find your legislator, visit: https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator. Also, tell your legislators to maintain the current funding for Farm to School programs ($120,000) in the fiscal year 2019 Massachusetts’s Budget!

If you do not live in Massachusetts, or are interested in federal policy (as opposed to state policy) – the Farm to School Act of 2017 is currently in committee in the House and Senate. This bill increases mandatory funding for the program from $5 million to $15 million due to increased demand. Tell your federal members of Congress to support this bill and strong Farm to School programs! To find your members, call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

 

Alana Davidson is a first year MS candidate in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program. For the last three years she has interned in the anti-hunger field at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Share Our Strength, and End Hunger Connecticut!. Her research and advocacy have centered on domestic food insecurity and nutrition issues.