Tag Archive: food access

  1. School Meals Provide a Guarantee That Children Will Get Fed

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    Young people can learn and thrive when they are fed and have access to healthy and nutritious foods. However, in Virginia, one in ten children are considered food insecure and may face hunger. Children are considered food insecure when their households experience limited or uncertain availability of safe, nutritious food at some point during the year.

    While significant efforts to improve food security have been in place during the pandemic—such as the enhanced Child Tax Credit, expanded SNAP benefits, Pandemic EBT, and universal school meals—unfortunately, these programs were designed to be temporary. Many of the supports that helped feed young people and lift their families out of poverty have already come to an end or will end once the Federal Public Health Emergency expires.

    The pandemic demonstrated that when it comes to ensuring young people have access to nutritious, healthy, and culturally appropriate food, there are programs that work. And one thing we are certain of is that school meals play a crucial role in providing the nutrition children need to support their academic success and overall well-being.

    This school year, Congress did not extend the federal waiver authority that allowed all young people access to free school meals over the last two years. As a result, schools have gone back to pre-pandemic operations, requiring families to submit an application to their child’s school to determine if their child is eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

    Voices is grateful to Virginia legislators who included $8.2 million in state funds over the next two years to cover the out-of-pocket costs of Virginia’s young people who qualified for reduced-price school breakfasts and lunches. The state funding will allow roughly 64,500 children from households whose incomes are between 130-149% of the poverty level to get their school meals for free rather than at reduced-price. But that still does not remove the barriers to food access created by the requirement to fill out paperwork for students to receive those meals at no cost to their families.

    A program that does remove barriers is the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Through CEP participation, school divisions are able to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge and without processing school meal applications.

     

    How Can Schools Participate and Why Should They?

    A school district, group of schools in a district, or individual school with 40% or more “identified students” can choose to participate in the CEP on a four-year cycle. Identified students are young people who are eligible for free school meals and are already identified by means other than a school meals application, such as:

    • students whose households participate in SNAP, TANF, and in some states (including Virginia), Medicaid benefits,
    • as well as students who are certified for free school meals because they are identified as homeless, migrant, runaway, enrolled in head start, or are in foster care.

    The Community Eligibility Provision promotes equity, reduces stigma, and saves schools significant time by reducing administrative burdens. Some of the benefits of CEP include:

    Helping economically disadvantaged students and their families

    • Parents are assured that students are getting two healthy meals a day at school
    • Families’ financial burden is eased when students eat school meals
    • Offering meals at no charge to all students eliminates stigma and “school lunch shaming”

    Increasing efficiency and school meal participation

    • Families don’t encounter language and literacy barriers to access through the application process
    • Schools do not need to track each meal served by fee category (free, reduced-price, and paid)
    • School nutrition staff do not need to collect fees or lunch numbers from students, allowing the lunch line to move faster and ensuring more students can be served
    • Eliminates unpaid school meal debt

     

    Virginia’s Utilization of CEP

    Virginia has made significant progress to encourage school divisions to reduce barriers to offering free school meals through the Community Eligibility Provision. During the 2021-2022 school year, out of Virginia’s 145 school districts, 97 divisions (67%) were eligible to participate in CEP and 81 of those divisions participated division-wide. According to the Food Research & Action Center, Virginia had the largest growth in the number of school districts adopting CEP, increasing by 25 school districts.

    Despite these numbers, there are roughly 50 school divisions that have no CEP opportunities or CEP opportunities are only available at a limited number of schools.

    As inflation has hit a 40-year high, families across Virginia—especially those in areas with a high cost of living—are struggling to make ends meet. And as a result, families who do not qualify for free or reduced-price school meals are more likely to now experience food insecurity.

    Virginia can work to ensure that less children experience food insecurity by expanding SNAP benefits and working to reduce the SNAP participation gap amongst families, supporting school divisions in an effort to maximize opportunities for adopting CEP, and continuing to fund and maintain the elimination of the reduced-price meal category for school meals.

     

    Voices for Virginia’s Children is a member of the Virginia Food Access Coalition, a statewide coalition that develops policy solutions to increase economic access to healthy and nutritious foods by investing in retail infrastructures and programmatic initiatives to combat areas of food insecurity.

  2. Intersectional Solutions to Increasing Food Access & Nutrition Security in Virginia

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    According to Feeding America, in Virginia, 799,620 people are facing hunger and 9.4 percent of the people in Virginia face food insecurity.  Of those, 214,270 are children. In 2019, Voices for Virginia’s Children reported 11.5 percent children in Virginia were food insecure. 

    • 1 in 11 people experience hunger
    • 1 in 9 children experience hunger

    Food insecurity does not necessarily hold the same definition as hunger or starvation. Hunger is a condition that may result from food insecurity. It is the prolonged involuntary lack of food that goes beyond the usual “uneasy” sensation. It results in discomfort, illness, weakness, pain, or malnutrition.

    There are different forms of food security and food insecurity. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced language to name the ranges in conditions:

    • High food security is described as no reported indications of food access problems or limitations;
    • Marginal food security is described as 1 or 2 reported indications, such as anxiety over insufficient food or a shortage of food in a household but little or no indication of changes in diets or food intake;
    • Low food security is described as reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability related to one’s diet but little to no reduced food intake;
    • Very low food security is described as multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns in combination with reduced food intake.

    In Feeding America’s Map, the Meal Gap study assessed that the average cost of a meal in Virginia is $3.17 cents. The annual budget shortfall that individuals who experience food insecurity reported needing, on average, was $433,605,000 to minimally meet their needs.

    Generating food security means ensuring all people have access to enough food to live an active and healthy lifestyle. Some states, including Virginia, have increased access to their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. This involved increasing SNAP thresholds to 200 percent of the poverty level, including in Virginia, to ensure more people are eligible.

    Voices for Virginia’s Children co-leads the Virginia Food Access Coalition with the American Heart Association – Virginia. To move the state forward, Virginia must:

    Invest $1.7M to Reduce Diet-Related Chronic Illnesses through the Produce RX Program.

    COVID-19 has increased Virginia’s food insecurity rate. Numerous studies have demonstrated correlations between food insecurity and poor health outcomes, such as higher level of chronic disease, hypertension, asthma, stroke, and cancer. The Produce Rx program will provide fresh, locally grown produce alongside healthcare and nutrition counseling to empower patients to overcome barriers to the consumption of fruits and vegetables. The program will allow medical professionals in Virginia to prescribe fresh fruit and vegetables to patients experiencing diet-related chronic illnesses. Over 500,000 Virginians eligible for SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid that may have specific dietary needs could be eligible for the Produce RX Program.

    Support the Produce RX Program: House Bill 1106 (Del. McQuinn), Item 341 #6h (Del. McQuinn), and Item 340 #2s (Sen. McClellan).

    Invest $2M to Support Local Farms & Access to Healthy & Nutritious Foods through Virginia Fresh Match.

    Virginia Fresh Match is a statewide initiative that started at the community-level to directly support Virginia’s agriculture and further increase access to fresh and nutritious foods for consumers who are low-income.  Every dollar of SNAP and incentives goes from the customer’s hand into a farmer’s pocket. VFM doubles the purchasing power of residents who are food insecure to increase revenue for farmers through redemption of federal nutrition benefit at markets and community-based retailers. With state support, VFM can reach more customers and grow the number of participating outlets, including supporting incentives for the Virginia Food Access Investment fund grantees.

    Support the Virginia Fresh Match Program: Item 96 #2h (Del. McQuinn), Item 96 #1s (Sen. McClellan), and Item 96 #1h, (Del. Filler-Corn).

    Invest $2M to Scale Up Virginia’s Food Supply Chain and Infrastructure through the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund.

    COVID-19 has increased Virginia’s food insecurity. It has further highlighted the urgent need to invest funds in Virginia’s food supply chain. Under resourced farmers and food distributors are facing high demands from Virginia’s Food banks. The Virginia Food Access Investment Fund invests in healthy food projects and businesses by providing funding to support construction, rehabilitation, equipment, upgrades, grocery store expansion, amongst other food and nutrition providers.

    Support the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund: Item 98 #9h (Del. McQuinn) and Item 98 #2s (Sen. McClellan).

    Take Action:

    • Click here to send an email to your public official to support the Virginia Fresh Match Program.  
    • Click here to send an email to your public official to support the Produce RX Program.  
    • Click here to send an email to your public official to support the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund.  

    Advocacy Opportunities:

    • Register for weekly GA Virginia Food Access Coalition meetings.  
    • Register for the Virginia Food Access & Nutrition Advocacy Day.  
    • Register for our upcoming Legislative Advocacy & Storytelling training.