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Program Offers Free Meals for More Maryland Kids

PHOTO: A federal initiative called the Community Eligibility Option would ensure students that live in communities with high poverty could get their meals at school for free - with no application and no worry.  Photo credit: USDA.GOV
PHOTO: A federal initiative called the Community Eligibility Option would ensure students that live in communities with high poverty could get their meals at school for free - with no application and no worry. Photo credit: USDA.GOV
October 15, 2013

BALTIMORE - All public-school pupils in Maryland and certain other states, who live in communities with high poverty, could get their meals at school for free under a new federal initiative, with no application and no worry. It's called the Community Eligibility Option, and its goals are to reduce hunger and to eliminate the stigma associated with schoolchildren being singled out to participate in free and reduced-price lunch programs.

A study released this month shows school systems across the country that are a part of CEO have seen a dramatic increase in the number of kids who eat meals at school. According to the director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, Michael J. Wilson, it's been a tremendous success in some Maryland communities, and he wants more school systems to participate.

"That the lunch will not cost that parent anything is a relief on the family budget, and is a relief for that parent to know that kid is going to get a healthy lunch every day of the school year," he said.

Wilson said higher participation in school meals means children can concentrate on their lessons and not on their empty bellies.

The CEO program has been relatively easy to put into effect, said senior policy analyst Madeleine Levin with the Food Research and Action Center.

"It really, on the ground, works so well because schools are able to operate more efficiently," she said. "And the resources that they used to spend collecting applications and school meal fees is put into more productive tasks."

Levin described those tasks as improving meal quality and providing nutrition education to staff and pupils.

The shutdown of federal programs hasn't affected school lunches - yet. But if it isn't resolved soon, even that staple, the basic school lunch, will also be threatened.




Alison Burns, Public News Service - MD