Washington, D.C. —- U.S. Representatives Bob Etheridge (D-Lillington), the only North Carolina member of the House Ways and Means Committee, encouraged greater outreach this past Tuesday from local schools to families with children who qualify for school lunch programs.
“My wife was a child nutritionist supervisor and she has consistently reminded me of the importance of a good, well-balanced meal in the physical and cognitive development of students,” Etheridge said. “You can have the newest schools and the best books but none of it matters if a child is hungry or malnourished.”
Etheridge sent letters to more than 170 principals in local schools to remind them that thousands of families may be foregoing free school lunches for their children because they are unaware they qualify. Officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are concerned that signups for the national school lunch program have not been keeping up with the increase in participation in the supplemental nutrition assistance program previously known as food stamps.
Between June 2008 and June 2009, the number of Americans signed up for nutrition assistance increased from 28.7 million to 35.1 million, an increase of 6.4 million. But the USDA also noted that the number of children participating in the school lunch program had risen by only about 1 million children. USDA statistics also showed that almost 30 million children participated in school lunches in May 2008 and that about 31 million children joined the lunch program during the 2008-09 school year.
“It is especially important that children who come from families which are economically stressed receive additional sources of nutrition outside of the home,” Etheridge said. “We’ve got to get the word out to more of these families out there who could benefit from these services, but who are not.”