Advocates Say Loss of Federal Funds Means NH Kids Go Hungry
Monday, December 5, 2022
Advocates for children say up to 7,000 students in New Hampshire public schools are going hungry following the rejection of a federal program for low-income students by Gov. Chris Sununu.
A bipartisan group of state senators recently failed to convince the governor to continue a COVID-era program ensuring children of families enrolled in Medicaid were automatically eligible for free or reduced-price meals at school.
Laura Milliken, executive director of New Hampshire Hunger Solutions, said there is ample research showing children learn more when they are fed.
"They have stronger attendance, and they have stronger graduation rates and better long-term health outcomes," Milliken outlined.
Sununu said legislative approval was needed to take part in the Medicaid data-sharing program, and although she disagrees with his assessment, Milliken noted her organization will work to get it, and potentially improve New Hampshire's state ranking in school breakfast participation, which is currently 47th.
Children's advocates noted the government averted a national crisis by providing free meals to an additional 10 million children throughout the pandemic. But Congress allowed the policy to expire, ending a vital source of nutrition for America's low-income students.
Milliken argued the Medicaid pilot program would help feed more hungry students and save schools money.
"They don't have to process as many school meal applications," Milliken pointed out. "It reduces school meal enrollment certification errors. It reduces unpaid student meal debt and increases state and federal funding."
She added older students especially would rather go hungry than be recognized as needing financial aid, often telling their parents not to apply. Milliken stressed the Medicaid data-sharing program could reduce the stigma by having students' meal cards already set at the free or reduced rate before they arrive in the cafeteria.
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