I honestly never thought about who paid for my lunch at school when I was a kid. I always simply assumed it was free. I chalked it up to one daily meal from God, because God knew that once I left the safety of school, I had no clue where my next meal was coming from. That is why my heart often hurts when I hear about the United States meal debt police. Why is a child burdened with worrying where their next meal is coming from? Reading this article, I want say there is a special place in hell for people like this:“The cash register woman says to this 4-year-old girl, verbatim, ‘You have no money,’. A milk carton was taken away, and the girl’s food was dumped in the trash.” and the school higher ups who have implemented polices such as serving cheap alternative meals with no nutritional requirements in place of hot meals or sending students home with conspicuous debt reminders, such as hand stamps that read “’I need lunch money”. To learn that six percent refuse to serve students with no money is absurd.
Children often bear the brunt of unpaid meal accounts. This leaves a child to not only go hungry for who know how long, but also colors them in embarrassment in front of their peers. This is not acceptable and is child neglect. It is time to lobby and I am glad I am not alone in feeling this way. At the federal level, language has been proposed for next year’s House appropriations bill that would set minimum standards to protect children from public embarrassment and leave them out of payment discussions. “The piece that is different in this legislation is that you cannot turn a child away no matter what they owe,” said Nancy Cathey, who oversees food services at Las Cruces Public Schools.
I also agree with Jennifer Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed, an advocacy group on poverty issues. “We live in a credit society. I think schools should handle debt like everybody else does: You don’t take away food from children. You feed them and you settle the bill later.” That is why I applaud New Mexico for being the first one to outlaw school meal shaming. Kids can eat for free if a family of four earns less than about $32,000 a year or at a discount if earnings are under $45,000. I am glad more states are coming aboard. California Senate in May unanimously approved a bill that prevents schools from denying lunch if a parent or guardian has not paid. Texas recently adopted a temporary grace period for students to keep eating cafeteria food while debt payments are negotiated with parents.