Kids across U.S. and in the Chippewa Valley could lose free lunch under proposed rule

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EAU CLAIRE, Wi. (WEAU)-- Nearly half a million U.S. children could lose access to free lunches because of a Trump administration proposal to make changes to the National School Lunch Program.

The program provides kids with free or reduced price school meals based on household income and family size or if they participate in certain Federal Assistance Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Under the proposed rule, as many as 982,000 children would no longer be eligible for free meals. About 497,000 of those children would be eligible for reduced price meals but about 40,000 children would not be eligible for the program at all. About 445,000 children would still be eligible for free lunches but they would have to apply rather than automatically be enrolled in the program.

The program is heavily relied upon in the Eau Claire Area School District. 2,150 students get free or reduced meals in the district according to Joshua Guckenberg, the Director of Food and Nutrition for the district.

“It helps students so they are able to get food because the families can't afford it,” Guckenberg says. “We want to make kids be able to belong so they feel just the same as everyone else.”

Emily Moore of Feed My People says food insecurity is a widespread problem in the Chippewa Valley and throughout west central Wisconsin.

“We are serving tens of thousands of people every month and one in five of them are children,” Moore says.

Moore says losing access to free lunch could only make the problem worse and increase the demand for organizations like Feed My People.

“People make difficult decisions every day between food and medicine food and transportation,” Moore says. “It’s just difficult decisions every day.”