[vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]No child should be hungry in America and yet statistics indicate that nearly every day, 16 million American children do.

Early last month, California took a major legislative step toward improving access and participation in federally-funded school meal programs to help ensure all students in need can receive at least one meal per day.

The new legislation calls for simple fixes to the online application processes for these programs and also requires the applications now be made available in multiple languages.   The new bill will take effect on January 1, 2016.

It is disheartening to recognize more than two million California children live in poverty—it is almost certain some of them may be going to bed hungry. This reality, coupled with research results that prove hunger in children has a lasting impact not only on their health; but, also on their potential for success in the classroom, made the need for such legislation essential.

A sense of urgency for Californians to focus attention on this issue was further highlighted in research conducted by the nonprofit organization, Feeding America. The agency pointed to the correlation between food insecurity and poverty and yet claimed they are not the same. According to agency research, “Poverty in the United States is only one of many factors associated with food insecurity.” Higher unemployment, lower household assets, and certain demographic characteristics also lead to a lack of access to adequate, nutritious food.”

Not surprisingly, the highest rates of food insecurity are found in households with children, especially households with children headed by single women (35%); or, single men (22%); also, African American households (26%); and, Hispanic households (22%).

California is the first state in the nation to implement a law specifically designed to protect the privacy rights of parents and children who apply for federal school meal programs on line.

California has remained a poster child for high unemployment rates. The state’s unemployment for 2014 stood at 7.5. This result placed the state 47th out of the 50 states in national rankings. The certain correlation between unemployment, poverty and hunger certainly provided an impetus for California legislators to act on this important issue.

The programs in question include the National School Lunch Program established in 1946; and, the School Breakfast Program established twenty years later in 1966. Both programs are federally-funded in public and nonprofit private schools, as well as residential child care institutions.  California law requires all public schools, except charter schools, serve at least one free or reduced-price meal during the school day.

According to Kids Data, a non-profit organization that tracks and publishes data related to the health and well being of children in communities across California, over 70 percent of students in San Bernardino County were eligible to receive free or reduced price school meals in 2014.

To qualify for these federally funded programs, the total household income for a family of four must be less than $43,000 per year.

SB708, the Child Hunger Bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in early October, will make it easier for the parents of homeless, migrant and refugee children to apply for the school meal program on line. The law also established California as the first state in the nation to implement a law specifically designed to protect the privacy rights of parents and children who apply for federal school meal programs on line.

The law specifically requires every California school that currently provides online access to the free or reduced priced meal program applications to also make the applications available in multiple languages. It also calls on the school districts to assure the application is not only uniform but also in compliance with child privacy rights and disclosure protections. This should smooth the application process as currently, school districts are not required to provide free or reduced meal program applications electronically or to follow any uniform standards.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_separator color=”grey” align=”align_center” style=”” border_width=”” el_width=””][vc_column_text]Words by S. E. Williams, BVN Contributor
Feature image: USDA/flickr[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

S.E. Williams

Stephanie E. Williams is an award winning investigative reporter, editor and activist who has contributed to several Inland Empire publications. Williams spent more than thirty years as a middle-manager...