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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

How will children grade us?

One in four RI households have problems feeding their kids

By Andrew Schiff

As we approach the end of the school year, students from elementary to high school are preparing for final exams. They are hoping for high marks. The best students like to show how much they’ve learned.

What if we asked children to grade us, the adults, on how we’re meeting their basic needs? 

One in four households with children in Rhode Island are food insecure, meaning they struggle to afford adequate food. To feed their children, thousands of parents seek food assistance each month at food pantries that are member agencies of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

If it were not for COVID-19 relief measures passed by Congress, the prevalence of food insecurity would be even higher. Government programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT), National School Lunch and Breakfast, and the Child Tax Credit provided critical aid that prevented widespread hunger.  

The question is how much have we learned in the past two years? Let’s see:

Beginning in 2020, SNAP benefits were increased through an emergency allotment that gave families an extra $95 per month. This modest increase is helping families keep up with the rapidly rising cost of food, but it goes away when the health emergency ends. Grade: C

Pandemic-EBT provides extra benefits for families to purchase food when schools are closed for summer vacation and their children miss out on school breakfast and lunch. During the summer of 2021, the monthly P-EBT benefit was $187.50 per child in Rhode Island. This critical help will not be continued after this summer. Grade: C-

School lunch and breakfast have been free for all students since the outbreak of COVID-19. Even though we realize the importance of good nutrition for children’s health and learning, the universal free school meals program terminates with the end of this school year. Grade: D

Congress expanded the Child Tax Credit to give families an extra $3,000 per child ($3,600 per child under age six). The program significantly reduced child hunger and poverty. And yet, we did not have the political will to continue the policy into 2023. Grade: F

The good news is that we have a chance to improve our grades. 

In September, the White House will host a Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. This is an opportunity to advocate for SNAP benefit levels to match the real cost of food and for P-EBT benefits to become a regular part of every summer. 

In Rhode Island, we can follow the example of Maine and California and make school meals free for all students. And we can urge our Congressional Delegation to work with their colleagues to reinstate the expanded Child Tax Credit for low-income families. 

No child should go hungry in Rhode Island and no child needs to. This is one problem that we know how to solve. It’s up to us, the adults, to do better.

Andrew Schiff is CEO of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank