A version of the bill proposed by GOP house leaders last July would have cut $40bn from SNAP. In the final version, those proposed cuts were whittled down to just over $8bn over the next decade. Although this is being hailed as a grand compromise, it still means that 1.7 million struggling Americans in 15 states will see their benefits cut by up to $90 per month in addition to absorbing an $11bn cut to the program last November. As the majority of SNAP benefits go to households with children, Congress and the White House are guilty of the same act for which the staff in the Utah cafeteria were vilified – taking food from the mouths of babes. Yet hardly anyone is calling for heads to roll.
The strange thing is that even as Congress and the White House are busy cutting off benefits to grown-ups that would help prevent their children (as well as the parents) from going hungry, there is a growing recognition both on the ground and at the government level that the crisis of child hunger in the US has reached unsustainable levels.
In 2015, the No Kid Hungry Campaign surveyed more than 1000 K-8 public school teachers across the country with sobering results (pdf). Three out of five teachers reported regularly seeing children in their classrooms who come to school hungry because they are not getting enough to eat at home. 56% of teachers said that "a lot" or "most" of their students rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition and more than half of the teachers surveyed said they frequently purchase food out of their own money for hungry kids, spending on average $26 a month.
It's no surprise then that when faced with the reality of hungry children on a daily basis the vast majority of public schools across the country (approximately 95%) voluntarily participate in the school lunch program and many school districts are starting to offer breakfast as well. In 2015, around 30.6m lunches and 13.15 million breakfasts were served to kids on a daily basis. Although the meals are heavily subsidized, with some kids qualifying for free meals and a smaller proportion for reduced price meals (40 cents for lunch (pdf) and 30 cents for breakfast), parents are still struggling to pay and defaults are on the rise.