Last week, in what became a national news story, lunch workers in a Utah school were instructed to throw away the lunches of elementary students whose cafeteria accounts were in arrears. The story went viral, as people on social media harshly blamed the parents who'd failed to keep the student accounts current, the cafeteria workers who complied with the humiliating orders, and of course, the school's administration, who seemed to want to both withhold food as well as to shame the hungry students.
But parents and cafeteria workers aren't really to blame alone. Instead, the blame rests on all of us and our failure to address the growing income inequality in our nation that leaves too many children hungry. One example of our monumental failure in this area is that this week, Congress finally settled on a Farm Bill, one that cuts SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) by eight billion dollars.
This comes at the same time as a recent USDA report found that 14.5% of American households struggled to put food on the table. In fact, one out of five American children live in a family that is food insecure, and 42.5% of African American children under the age of five live in poverty.
These are staggering numbers, but when they're calmly repeated by our nightly newscasters, they don't feel as alarming as they should. We don't necessarily connect the fact that an unacceptable number of American children are hungry each day with the slashing of SNAP that was just agreed upon by the U.S. House and Senate.
And there are connections to be made. Perhaps some of the young students whose lunch trays were thrown in the trash have absentminded parents who missed the due date on their cafeteria bill. But, after looking at the food insecurity data, I'm guessing many more are among the hundreds of thousands of hungry children in America. They are our neighbors and our children's' classmates, they live in Utah, Detroit, and in every state in our nation. They don't all have food dramatically snatched from their hands and thrown away as they watched, unable to do anything, but passing laws like the SNAP cut absolutely make their struggle against hunger even harder. In short, Congress just tossed the meals of millions of kids in the garbage. It's time for a wake up call in our nation's capital. It's time to open our eyes and stand up for kids.
Monifa Bandele is a Senior Campaign Director for MomsRising