More than 500,000 children could lose their automatic eligibility for free school lunches under the Trump administration’s new proposal to restrict broader access to food stamps, according to a letter from the House Education and Labor Committee chairman to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., wrote in the letter that the committee was briefed on the policy and was given the estimate by the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service on July 22.
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However, the estimate was not included in the public Federal Register when the policy was announced last week.
In the letter, Scott argued that the move to not include the potential impact of free school lunches violated procedure — pointing to an executive order that says the department must provide “for both proposed and final rules, timely online access to the rulemaking docket on regulations.gov, including relevant scientific and technical findings.”
“The effect on school meal eligibility represents an important technical finding that must be made public so stakeholders have the opportunity to comment on all aspects of the rule’s impact,” Scott said in the letter.
Byron Hetzler/The Southern Illinoisan via AP, FILE
Michelle Hughes, head cook at Harrisburg High School, readies the serving line for lunch at the school on Feb. 14, 2019, in Harrisburg, Ill.
According to committee staff, Agriculture Department officials also said that an estimated 93% of the 500,000 children would be eligible for reduced price meals.
The initial announcement for the proposed rule also estimated that roughly 3 million people could be cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
USDA’S Food and Nutrition Service said in an email that it “cannot provide additional information during the public comment period,” and that “a change in eligibility rules for SNAP, could impact the use of direct certification of SNAP participants for free school meals. However, individual families are able to submit applications for free and reduced priced meals at any time, regardless of SNAP participation.”
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In his letter, Scott asks that Perdue confirm the estimate that the committee staff was briefed on and asks that he “provide and explanation of why the impact on school meal eligibility was not included in the RIA published in the Federal Register.”
He also asks for the proposed rule in the Federal Register to be edited to include the estimate, and that the 60-day public comment period be restarted.