Action needed to fund nutrition, health programs for children

By Les Sterman and Gail Wechsler

Jane, the child of a single mother in Missouri, ate breakfast and lunch every day at public school for a number of years as part of the free and reduced-cost meal program funded by the federal government. She needed this extra support because her family was facing hard times. Her mother was unable to make ends meet, although she was working two jobs and taking classes at night school. Still, she had three very young children to support. 

Jane (we are using a pseudonym to ensure her privacy) never talked to her friends about her family’s situation growing up. She was embarrassed and didn’t think her friends could understand her situation. With the benefit of having nutritious meals before and during the school day, as well as other support such as free school supplies, and school clothing and outerwear provided by a local nonprofit agency, Jane had a successful educational experience. She excelled in elementary and secondary school and attends a highly ranked private university in Missouri as an honors student.       

In 2009, an estimated one in five Missouri children were living in poverty. In 2013, that number had risen to one in four. 

In 2008, 13.4 percent of Missourians lived in poverty, 16.3 percent by last year. 


In other words, 179,000 more people lived in poverty in Missouri in 2014 than in 2008, and now a total of nearly 950,000 people are living in poverty in our state. More than 400,000 live in extreme poverty. These numbers are tragic, and we have the capacity to do something about it. 

Federal nutrition programs are a lifeline for children living in poverty. The federal free school breakfast and lunch program that helped Jane is designed to alleviate domestic hunger and is sorely needed because food pantries and other charities are unable to meet the needs of those suffering from food insecurity.   

To fight hunger, Congress needs to continue to fund child nutrition programs. One existing law, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (also known as Child Nutrition Reauthorization), is set to expire Sept. 30. This law supports essential programs such as the free school breakfasts and lunches during the academic year that Jane received. It also supports summer feeding programs and after-school feeding programs.

Such child nutrition programs touch the lives of millions of low-income children daily, and reauthorization provides an opportunity to improve and strengthen these programs. Research demonstrates the ability of child nutrition programs to improve educational achievement, economic security, nutrition and health.  

Please urge Congress to fully fund Child Nutrition Reauthorization this year. In particular, JCRC urges you to contact Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, to ask for his support for  Child Nutrition Reauthorization.    

Another critical federal program that assists children in poverty is the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  For nearly two decades, CHIP has been an essential source of health insurance coverage for families, ensuring access to high quality, affordable, pediatric-appropriate health care for children in working families whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to purchase private health insurance. CHIP has played a critical role in reduc

ing the number of uninsured children by more than 50 percent while improving health outcomes and access to care for children and pregnant women across the nation. 

The CHIP program has been extended through 2019 but is funded only through this year. Unless Congress acts, this highly successful and critically needed program will end in most states –  including Missouri – in less than one year. 

Health care analysts believe nearly 2 million children nationwide could lose health insurance should CHIP fail to be funded in a timely manner.  

Please urge your members of Congress to extend CHIP for four more years.

Reducing poverty and inequality is one of our deeply held values as Jews. And we have a special obligation to children living in poverty. As we enter the Passover season, we read from the Haggadah “[l]et all who are hungry come and eat; let all who are in need come share our Passover.”

Likewise, providing health care to all is part of Jewish tradition. To save a life in Judaism is considered the equivalent of saving the entire world.  Jewish Community Relations Council resolutions on access to healthcare and responding to hunger demonstrate the importance that JCRC places on these issues.

While our federal budget is certainly stressed, there can be no higher priority than the health and welfare of our children. The JCRC urges you to take action to keep Child Nutrition Reauthorization and the CHIP programs funded to serve children like Jane so that they, too, can succeed in school and in life.

You  can find out more about JCRC’s work to alleviate child poverty by contacting Gail Wechsler at JCRC at [email protected] or 314-442-3894.