Congress is set to vote on Wednesday on a measure that could cause 3 million children nationwide -- including about 200,000 in the tri-state area -- to lose access to free school meals if it passes.
The bill, which would reauthorize the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition acts, includes a proposal that would increase the threshold at which school lunch is offered universally at a school.
Currently, through a measure called "community eligibility," a school's entire student body is eligible for free lunches if at least 40 percent of students qualify. The proposed bill would increase that threshold to 60 percent, putting millions of children across the United States at risk of losing meal access.
The measure could potentially put students in some of the country's poorest communities at risk for missing meals, according to a report issued last month by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Locally, School District of Philadelphia schools, where 100 percent of students qualify for free lunches according to state statistics, likely would not be affected. But Archdiocese of Philadelphia schools -- and schools in Delaware and New Jersey -- could potentially suffer cuts.
In Pennsylvania overall, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report estimates that 240 schools that have adopted the community eligibility program -- bringing free lunches to more than 132,000 students -- would be affected. In New Jersey, an estimated 29,300 students at 62 schools would be at risk and in Delaware, some 38,000 students in 73 schools could potentially lose their access to school meals.
The report says the measure that allowed schools to opt-in their entire student bodies for school meals simplified administration of the program for schools and decreased the stigma around low-income students getting meals at school, increasing student participation and helping to improve their diets, behavior and academic achievements.
Students are automatically qualified for the school meal program if their families receive the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (colloquially known as SNAP or food stamps), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program or similar programs. The center report said if the measure is passed, although the schools with the poorest students would likely not see changes to their programs, schools that serve lower-income communities would still suffer.
"The schools that would no longer qualify for community eligibility serve predominantly low-income students in some of our highest-poverty communities," the report reads. "And, in schools with such high concentrations of poverty, students who don't qualify for free or reduced-price meals are typically not much better off than those who do qualify.