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Ben Cline: Families need to prove they are ‘truly needy’ for kids to get free lunch at school

Gene Zitver
ben cline
(© lev radin – Shutterstock)

In 2022, Sixth District Republican Congressman Ben Cline was one of just 42 members of the House to vote NO on the Keep Kids Fed Act. The law, which passed with support from all House Democrats and most Republicans, extended federal pandemic-era waivers that helped millions of kids access meals both in school and during the summer.

Now the House Republican Study Committee, of which Cline is a leading member, has introduced a budget that would ban universal free school meals.

Eight states offer all students, regardless of household income, free school meals — and more states are trending in the direction. But while people across the country move to feed school children, congressional Republicans are looking to stop the cause.

The budget — co-signed by more than 170 House Republicans — calls to eliminate “the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) from the School Lunch Program.” The CEP, the Republicans note, “allows certain schools to provide free school lunches regardless of the individual eligibility of each student.”

“Additionally,” the Republicans continue, “the RSC Budget would limit spending in the program to truly needy households.”

The CEP allows schools and districts in low-income areas to provide breakfast and lunch to all students, free of charge. The program thus relieves both schools and families from administrative paperwork, removing the inefficiencies and barriers of means-testing, all on the pathway to feeding more children and lifting all boats.

It’s ironic that Cline – who regularly rails against excessive government bureaucracy and regulations – wants to require families to prove they are “truly needy” before their kids can get free meals at school.

Republicans have worked for years to undermine school lunch programs, but the staying focus on the goal, even in rhetoric, is notable given the warm reception some states have received in instituting universal school lunch. In Minnesota, for example, 70 percent of Minnesotans, including 57 percent of conservatives and 54 percent of senior citizens, were found to have approved of the policy change that took effect last summer — even after reports that the program was proving to be more costly than anticipated, due to greater-than-expected demand. Statewide polling in Pennsylvania last year found 82 percent of people support expanding their free school breakfast program to include lunch too, while 87 percent of Ohio K-12 parents were found in 2022 to support school meals for all, regardless of ability to pay.

And of course, universal free school meals eliminate the hurtful divisions between children whose families can and can’t afford to pay.

Meanwhile, congratulations to the members of the Clarke County Democratic Committee (in Cline’s district), who – despite the Republican Study Committee – actually care about all school kids getting fed.

Gene Zitver is the editor of ClineWatch.