Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Children Going Hungry in Howard County

Most people living in Howard County acknowledge that we have neighbors in poverty.  This is commonly mentioned as if it is a "fun fact" that not too many people know.  "And we have homeless people too!"  The Ulman Administration has done more than most to identify families in need and create an infrastructure for meeting those needs.  Unfortunately, the most common consequence of working with the poor is the identification of additional unmet needs, inadequate resources, and problems begging for change.

Like child hunger.  There are 14,641 people living in poverty in Howard County (as of 2012).  18.6% of all children in Howard County schools participated in the Free And Reduced price School Meals program (FARMS) during the 2012-13 school year. 

Where are we coming up short?

The first is breakfast.  According to Maryland Hunger Solutions (#HearTheCrunch), only 33 low-income students participate in the School Breakfast Program for every 100 who participate in the School Lunch Program.  That means 67% of all students eligible for this program are not receiving this benefit.  MHS also projects that Howard County is leaving $667,555 in federal funding on the table by failing to reach the target of 70% in school breakfast participation.  The biggest problem here is the stigma attached to having breakfast in a room known to be providing subsidized meals.  "Poor kids breakfast."  This stigma may be avoided by allowing children to eat their breakfast in the classroom ("Breakfast in the Classroom" or "Grab 'n Go Breakfast"), which has been shown to dramatically increase participation.

The next is Summer Lunches.  Children who receive free or reduced price meals during the school year do not necessarily see that need go away as they step out for summer break.  Jurisdictions across the state have worked with organizations, summer camps, and community centers to provide bag lunches for these children during the summer.  This expense is entirely reimbursed by the federal government.  The only local expenditure is on staffing for coordination and distribution of the meals.  Howard County currently has no Summer Meal sites, putting us near the bottom of the rankings for Child Hunger. (Note: The linked report indicates that there were 2 sites in 2011, but MHC tells me that there are no sites prepared for 2014).

I would like to think that even the most conservative free market devotee would agree that children should not go hungry.  There is a threshold before which we cannot expect individuals to provide for themselves, which is a fair and appropriate place for government to intervene.  If we acknowledge that Howard County is not immune from poverty and that poverty causes food insecurity, then we must also acknowledge that children are going hungry unnecessarily and on our watch. 

Let's fix this.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!