H.R. 610 Would Affect Free School Lunch Programs

While the current political landscape seems to be a nonstop roller coaster of action, protests, and new legislation, some things have become caught in the crossfire. And even though the Republican replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act has had news feeds up in arms, other pieces of legislation are coming into play that you'll definitely want to watch. H.R. 610 was introduced late January; The bill targets federal funds in regards to education and school meal plans, and could have a large impact if passed. But just how would H.R. 610 affect free and reduced lunch programs? Unfortunately, the answer doesn't look good at the moment.

Specifically, H.R. 610, or the "Choices in Education Act" — which intends "to distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools" — has one key feature that would mean less funding for healthy school lunches: The bill would repeal a portion of the No Kids Hungry Act, which "established certain nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs." Not exactly the kind of news you want to hear, huh?

While the new legislation doesn't do away with the National School Lunch Act of 1964 (which was established so that kids from low-income families would be able to receive free or reduced lunches at school — in 2012 alone, over 30 million children received meals from the program on a daily basis), it still has a large impact on what low-income children would be able to eat. By doing away with mandates to "increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat free milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat in school meals; and meet children's nutritional needs within their caloric requirements," the bill is basically giving schools a free pass on what children are fed. And, honestly, that's not OK.

As Republican Congress members like to remind us all (as if we need a lesson on money from them), "There's no such thing as a free lunch." And while, technically, it's a fact that everything comes from something and nothing is truly free, per se, for hundreds of thousands of children across the nation, the meals they get at their public schools may be the only meals they get each day.

H.R. 610 paints itself as a picture of school choice, vouchers, and opportunity. But in reality, the bill's repeal of nutritional standards in school lunches represents anything but opportunity.