SNAP Judgement

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Richard Swerdlow (Richard Swerdlow)

Hunger in America seems inexcusable but it's very real. Richard Swerdlow says it's doubly inexcusable in our schools.

When I started as an inner-city teacher 26 years ago, I remember my shock to discover that, for some students, the free school lunch was the only thing they had to eat that day.

And this school year, I was shocked again. Under newly proposed federal eligibility changes, about 500,000 students across the United States would no longer qualify for free or reduced school meal programs. And one thing I've learned as a teacher - kids can't learn if they're hungry. Students are expected to tackle rigorous curriculum, requiring complex critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Nobody can focus on an empty stomach.

It's appalling that in the United States, one of the world's wealthiest nations, thousands of children might be sitting through lunch recess and provided nothing for lunch. In the San Francisco Unified School District alone, at least 18,000 children might no longer qualify for free or reduced school lunches based on these eligibility changes. That's about one out of every three students.

But this isn't only a San Francisco issue. It's the whole country - a nationwide federal proposal from SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, part of the U. S. Department of Agriculture. So painful are these proposed changes that mayors of 70 American cities have sent letters to administrators at the U. S. Department of Agriculture protesting deep cuts to school lunch programs.


SNAP funding, about 2% of the federal budget, fights hunger across America. And this dull budget line item means food for thousands of schoolchildren. Unlike teachers, policy makers in Washington DC don't need to face hungry kids struggling to get through a school day.

Today's students are tomorrow's workforce that will keep this country prosperous. Just as food is crucial for the health and development of a child, education is crucial for the economic health and development of a nation. Students deserve access to healthy school lunches - and it isn't just good for them, it's good for the country.

Well-nourished students learn better, and providing school lunches for those kids who qualify isn't a waste of funding. It's an investment in our future. This SNAP decision may save money now, but it’ll prove costly for our country in the long run.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.