Democrats: 23K children at risk of losing school lunch subsidy under House Farm Bill

May 2, 2018 GMT

Eight percent of children receiving school lunches for free or at a reduced price under a federal assistance program could lose that subsidy under a plan moving through the U.S. House.

A new memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau and requested by Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, shows 23,369 children could lose their subsidized school lunches because their families will lose benefits through the state’s food stamp program, known as FoodShare.

The loss would result primarily from a major change proposed in the 2018 Farm Bill: A lower income threshold at which families may be automatically enrolled in other assistance programs at the time they are approved to receive food stamps.

That means families with a household income of more than 130 percent of the federal poverty level would no longer be automatically identified as eligible to receive free and reduced-price meals, requiring the families to find and fill out the paperwork on their own in order to continue receiving the benefit.

“What it really means is that children in Wisconsin will go hungry,” Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Milwaukee-based Hunger Task Force food assistance advocacy group, said at a press conference Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker said the governor hopes any efforts in Washington, D.C., to make changes to public benefits would be done in a way that “protects children and helps able-bodied adults get the skills needed to join the workforce.”

Spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg did not immediately clarify whether the governor supports the proposed changes.

A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. And a spokesman for the state Department of Public Instruction was not immediately able to comment on efforts the department is planning if the proposed changes become law.

Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, said the proposals subject families to more paperwork in order to receive the subsidized meals — creating more hoops families may choose not to jump through, leaving them worse off financially.

But Republicans say the changes proposed in the new Farm Bill will ultimately move families living in poverty toward a more self-sustainable life through the work requirements. Similar changes passed in Wisconsin have often been referred to as a “trampoline and not a hammock” by Walker.

The bill, which is renewed every five years and covers federal farm and nutrition policy, imposes stricter work requirements, adds funding for job training programs, and likely will result in $463 million increase in funding for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office analysis.

More rigorous work requirements would likely save $9 billion in that time through recipients losing benefits for not working enough to keep them, the CBO said.

The LFB analysis released Tuesday also projects 75,720 FoodShare recipients, or 11 percent of the total number of recipients statewide, would lose benefits under the bill’s proposed changes.