Imagine a scene at a Minnesota school cafeteria where a child is dished up a tray of food, only to watch as they tray is taken away and thrown into the trash. The child is too poor to pay the "reduced rate" school lunch meal rate of 40 cents. He or she will endure the rest of the school day light-headed, stomach growling -- hungry. Source
This heartbreaking scenario is not something out of a Charles Dickens novel – it’s a reality in Minnesota, and in thousands of schools across America today.
Under federal guidelines as outlined by the USDA, a family’s income is rated at a level that is 130% to 186% of the poverty level, they qualify for what is called a “reduced” lunch, which costs just 40 cents. But even that 40 cents is beyond what many families can pay.
Yes, there is a free lunch program, but you have to be even poorer to qualify for that. Those that must cough up the 40 cents per meal must do so, or go hungry.
Those at the 130 percent poverty level are a family of four with a total income $29,965. The 185 percent is $42,643 for a family of four. Children from families over 185 percent of poverty pay full price.
The average price for full-paid lunch has reached $1.93 for elementary schools, $2.14 for middle schools and $2.20 for high schools, according to the School Nutrition Association.
In Minnesota, 61,500 kids qualify for the reduced lunch rate of 40 cents.
In a Minnesota Legal Aid survey of 182 school districts, 30 of them have a “turn away policy.” In many cases, school cafeteria workers fish a quarter, dime and a nickel out of their own pockets so the unlucky child can eat.
In some school districts, the worker is allowed to give a peanut butter and jelly sandwich free of cost if a student cannot pay the "reduced" 40-cent fee.
Sen. Al Franken recently spoke of this on the floor of the U.S. Senate, saying:
"The indecency of turning away children from the school lunch counter becomes all too evident when one hears the stories of the food service workers and teachers who have to confront these children directly. In the Roseville, Minnesota, school district, for example, schools recently reported that parents with health problems showed up at the district office unable to pay for reduced-price lunch. The families, however, had too much income to qualify for the free lunch program. The district policy is that children who cannot pay for school lunches can receive cheese sandwiches for three days, and then must be turned away. Roseville cashiers and food service managers have been using their own money to cover children who they know cannot pay."
Those Minnesota families who are experiencing trouble buying food might want to call The Minnesota Food HelpLine (1-888-711-1151) This HelpLine will help enroll persons that qualify for SNAP and help callers find emergency food assistance close to their home.
See Also: A Solution to Hunger in Minnesota