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School Lunch or Bridge Card???

September 14, 2010

LANSING, Mich. - Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are moving to improve school lunch programs, but are getting hung up on how to pay for it. The U.S. House is poised to vote on the Child Nutrition bill, which is expected to improve the quality of food at school cafeterias and out-of-school programs. However, the Senate version takes $2.2 billion from the federal food stamps program, known as the Bridge Card in Michigan, to pay for it, which some say "robs Peter to pay Paul.'

The executive director of the National Association of Social Workers, Michigan chapter, Maxine Thome, says the Senate plan won't improve children's overall nutrition.

"Right now the Bridge Card program is so limited that families are barely making it. So what's going to happen is breakfast and dinner will be very, very sparse, and the children will be dependent on their school lunch for the majority of their nutrition."

Thome says the number of children with health issues, such as diabetes, is increasing, and with fewer dollars through the food assistance program, families can't meet special dietary needs.

"What you're going to see are children with increased behavioral issues, mental health issues, and chronic diseases that are dependent on nutrition will be out of control."

Thome says one in five Michigan families now relies on the Bridge Card to buy groceries and the number is growing. She says the Senate version of the national bill would reduce the monthly assistance by about $60 for a family of four.

Supporters of the plan say the federal government can't afford to improve the school lunch programs without taking away from food assistance funding to help pay for it.

Amy Miller/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MI