Bill for student cards to cover meals fails in Legislature

A bill that would have granted low-income schoolchildren electronic benefit transfer cards to cover meals when classes are not in session quietly failed in the state Legislature last week.

Food banks across California promoted the legislation, citing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on child hunger as school closures exacerbated food insecurity for families who depended on schools for free meals.

The legislation, Senate Bill 364, by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) would have created a federally funded feeding program for K-12 income-eligible children to be used when schools are closed in the summer.

The bill was modeled after a federal guideline enacted during the pandemic that loaded cash on EBT cards for eligible families with children to buy groceries while classrooms were closed.

Under this program, led by the Department of Agriculture, California has awarded nearly $1.4 billion in benefits to low-income children totaling $3.7 million. The amount of benefits varied depending on how many days of school were cut, with a maximum of $365.

Skinner wanted to make the program permanent in California.

“Despite the program’s success, there is no plan to continue it post-pandemic,” Skinner said in an analysis of SB 364. “This is a model that California could use to provide meals to children during school vacations.

“Hunger follows the kids home from school,” she added.

There was no registered opposition to SB 364, but on Thursday the bill did not survive the fast-moving Appropriations Assembly Committee, a gatekeeper body that thins out proposals based on cost. The exact price of the bill was unknown, but a legal analysis put the annual running costs “in the tens of millions”.

Skinner declined to comment on the failure of the bill.

While a number of school districts are offering bagged meals for pickup when classes are out of class, some families don’t have transportation or can’t leave work at the right time to pick up those meals, advocates say.

Before the pandemic, more than 15% of California households with children were food insecure. That rate nearly doubled in the early months of the pandemic, when schools were closed, according to a report by the California Assn. by Food Banks, a sponsor of SB 364.

Lauren Lathan Reid, a spokeswoman for the group, said she will continue to advocate for the policy. She commended Skinner and Gov. Gavin Newsom for passing legislation last year that made California the first state to offer free school meals to all K-12 students regardless of income.

But the need exceeds the school’s guaranteed two free meals, she said, even as classrooms are closed during emergencies such as wildfires.

“We don’t stop there,” said Lathan Reid. “We know that summer is the hungriest time of year and we know how to prevent it.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-15/proposal-for-student-ebt-cards-for-fails-in-california-legislature Bill for student cards to cover meals fails in Legislature

Alley Einstein

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