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house Bill H.R. 2311

Should Schools be Prohibited From “Lunch Shaming” Children Unable to Pay for a Meal?

Argument in favor

It’s wrong for schools to discriminate against or stigmatize children because their parents haven’t paid their school meal bills. Lunch shaming should be prohibited.

Argument opposed

There’s nothing wrong with having children whose parents can’t pay for their meals at school do extra chores, this bill is a solution in search of a problem.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on Education and Labor
    IntroducedApril 12th, 2019

What is House Bill H.R. 2311?

This bill would prohibit schools from publicly identifying or otherwise stigmatizing children participating in the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program who either don’t have funds to pay for a meal or have an outstanding credit from a school food authority. Such children couldn’t be forced to wear a wristband or hand stamp, perform chores that other students aren’t generally assigned to, or dispose of food after it has been served to them.

Any communications related to outstanding credit would have to be directed to the child’s parent or guardian. A child may be required to deliver a letter regarding outstanding credit that’s addressed to the parent or guardian if the letter isn’t distributed in a way that stigmatizes the child.

This bill would also express the sense of Congress that schools should be provided with lunch or breakfast at school regardless of their ability to pay, those who can’t pay shouldn’t be provided an alternate meal, and schools should explore innovative ways to improve communications and payments with parents. It'd also request that the Secretary of Agriculture: 

  • Ensure the annual distribution of understandable, uniform applications for free or reduced price lunches and encourages school food authorities to offer assistance to complete the applications;
  • Coordinate with school food authorities and local education agency liaisons to ensure that homeless children and youth are eligible to receive a free or reduced price lunch;
  • Coordinate with state agencies responsible for foster children and youth to ensure that both are eligible to receive a free or reduced price lunch; and
  • Explore innovative ways to use technology to improve and coordinate communications between parent(s) or guardian(s) and school food authorities.

Impact

Children who would otherwise be lunch shamed; parents; school administrators and teachers.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 2311

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), a member of the Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity, reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to prohibit school "lunch shaming," which is the practice of discriminating against or stigmatizing children who have outstanding credit or don't have enough money to pay for meals at school. Rep. Haaland says:

No child should have to worry about being hungry at school, but there are still places in this country with outdated policies that force children to bear the burden of poverty. In 2017, New Mexico took the lead on ending these harmful policies and now we’re working to ensure children across the country have full stomachs when they’re in school so they can reach their full learning potential.”

Senate sponsor Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) adds

"Lunch shaming is a practice so cruel and backwards that most Americans would be shocked to know it happens. And yet school districts across the country are allowed to use these appalling tactics. Instead of stigmatizing kids who come from struggling households, withholding hot meals from students, and depriving some children of their only healthy meal of the day, we should be working to find solutions to end childhood hunger and to support families in need. We know that hunger can be an insurmountable barrier to success in the classroom. I was proud when New Mexico became the first state in the country to outlaw the practice of lunch shaming, and I will continue to do everything I can in the Senate to pass this legislation on a federal level so no child will have to spend their time at school feeling ashamed of a debt they have no power to pay.”

Last Congress, sponsoring Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) introduced this bill to ban schools from “lunch shaming” — publicly singling out children through wristbands or chores if they can’t pay for school meals:

“No student should be humiliated in front of their peers because their parents can’t afford to pay for a meal. It is shocking and shameful that this happens to hungry children, but nearly half of all school districts use some form of lunch shaming. This bipartisan bill will put an end to these draconian practices and help ensure that students can focus on their studies without looking over their shoulder to see their friends pointing fingers.”

New Mexico Appleseed is one of the organizations sponsoring this bill. Its executive director, Jennifer Ramo, says: 

"There are few more powerful antidotes to the causes and consequences of child poverty than food and dignity. This important bill ensures that children receive the vital nutrition they need to focus in school through the national school lunch program. And, it ensures that they do so with their self-respect intact.  We have saved New Mexican children from the devastating effects of being humiliated and missing meals through our state’s Hunger-Free Student Bill of Rights, and now we are excited to see this protection extended nationally to all children in need."

The federal government, via U.S. Dept. of Agriculture regulations, requires school districts to seek payment for unpaid school lunch balances. However, it doesn't mandate how schools pursue this repayment. The School Nutrition Association's Diane Pratt-Heavne notes that after new guidelines requiring districts to address this issue were issued before the 2017-2018 school year, reports of school lunch shaming stories increased. However, the School Nutrition Association also notes, most districts avoid the practice of publicly identifying students with lunch debt in favor of using online payment programs, finding ways to contact parents about their debts other than through their children, or accepting charitable contributions. 

This bill has 14 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 11 Democrats and three Republicans, in the 116th Congress. A Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), has 13 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including 11 Democrats and two Republicans.

Last Congress, this bill had the support of 147 bipartisan cosponsors in the House, including 130 Democrats and 17 Republicans, and didn't receive a committee vote. A Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Udall, had 13 Democratic cosponsors and didn't see committee action last Congress.

FRAC, Feeding America, National PTA, Share our Strength, First Focus, Food Corps, New Mexico Appleseed, Hunger Task Force, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, California Food Policy Advocates, New Mexico Voices for Children, Hunger Free Vermont, End Childhood Hunger – South Carolina, Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, Children’s Hunger Alliance, Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Cultivating Community, Alabama Food Bank Association, Feed the Children, Hunger Free Oklahoma, Hunger Solutions New York, West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, and Missoula Food Bank support this bill.


Of Note: Rep. Haaland introduced this bill in response to news that a Warwick, Rhode Island school district intended to give students with unpaid lunch debts a sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich instead of hot foodIn a tweet in response, Rep. Haaland said: 
"Forcing children to bear the burden of poverty is wrong. NM took the lead to end harmful policies like this, and now I'm working to make sure no student has to face lunch shaming. #StandUpForKids"
Warwick school officials told the Providence Journal the policy is needed because the district is owned tens of thousands of dollars in lunch money, and is also contending with a budget deficit in the millions. Karen Bachus, the Warwick School Committee's chairwoman, says the district is owed over $40,000 in lunch money. Other school officials estimate the total is closer to $77,000. Due to a $4 million deficit, the Warwick school district has already cut back on janitorial services and is considering eliminating a popular mentoring program that doesn't have funding.
However, critics of the Warwick school district's policy — and of lunch shaming in general — argue that kids don't have control over their parents' finances, and shouldn't be stigmatized or potentially subjected to public humiliation because of their inability to pay. Heather Vale, a parent of two children in Warwick schools, says, "I just don’t think it’s fair to hold the kids responsible. I think it’s embarrassing to the kids because now everyone’s going to know why these children are receiving the lunch that they are.”
In lunch shaming episodes nationwide, students have been branded with stamps, given cheese sandwiches instead of hot meals, or even had their lunches thrown away after employees discovered they weren't current on their lunch payments. In 2015, a Colorado cafeteria worker said she'd been fired after giving free food to hungry elementary school students, one of whom had broken down in tears. Similarly, in 2016, Stacy Koltiska, a Pennsylvania school lunch worker, quit in protest after she was forced to refuse a hot meal to a student because he couldn't pay for it. Koltiska said, "As a Christian, I have an issue with this. It’s sinful and shameful is what it is."
A number of states, including New Mexico (the first state to pass such a law), Virginia, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Texas, Iowa, Washington, New York and Pennsylvania have laws on the books prohibiting lunch shaming. Rhode Island is considering similar legislation.

AKA

Anti-Lunch Shaming Act of 2019

Official Title

To amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to prohibit the stigmatization of children who are unable to pay for meals.

    What a world we live in that shames a child for being hungry, and adults who not only encourage shaming, but actively participating in it. America isn’t being a beacon, it’s being petty with the most vulnerable.
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    It's absolutely imperative we stop the act of lunch shaming immediately. What an unfortunate reality.
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