(August News) Did you catch the story in last week’s Methow Valley News about changes to the free and reduced lunch program? We did.
They said that working families are at risk of losing the essential support of our federal free and reduced lunch program. Between the data -- 40.85% of our Methow Valley students received free or reduced price lunch in 2018 -- and our experience working with people each day, we know that many local households experience food scarcity, work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and rely on essential safety net programs like free and reduced lunch at schools.
Currently, families enrolled in income-based support programs like food stamps or “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” (TANF) qualify automatically for free or reduced lunch during the school year and summer months. The proposed rule change would drop 35,000 households from food assistance programs across Washington State and stop automatically enrolling income-eligibile families in free and reduced lunch programs.
Currently, a family of 3 in Washington State could qualify for food assistance if they make about $42,000 or less (which gives households some breathing room as they face uniquely high childcare and housing costs in our area), with this policy change, that same family of 3 would have to earn $27,000 or less to still qualify for food assistance. Households likely affected by this change to income eligibility thresholds? Seniors, those with disabilities, and working families.
We also know that enrolling in public assistance programs - the programs many of our neighbors rely on to stay out of daily poverty - involves time, energy, and resources. Every week, we see people spending precious gas money to get to Omak to work with DSHS, or using their limited lunch break to navigate complex enrollment systems with our advocates. Programs that streamline eligibility generally mean less burden and more benefit to those most vulnerable.
Public comment on the proposed change to food benefits is open for just 60 days. If you have thoughts to share with the lawmakers, or simply feel strongly about getting your voice in the public record (all comments are archived in the Library of Congress!), submit your comment by September 23. Click here to comment.