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'Food ought to be a fundamental right': US Rep. Jim McGovern highlights importance of summer meal programs amid proposed SNAP cuts
For many children, summer vacation means fun-filled days at the playground or the local pool. But for some, the warmer months are also filled uncertainty about where their next meal will come from.
In Worcester, 77 percent of children are food insecure, qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals. Statewide, 400,000 students are eligible.
To help meet that need, the Massachusetts Summer Food Service program offers free meals to children and teens whose parents might be scrambling to feed them once school lets out.
On Monday, Congressman James P. McGovern (D-Worcester) kicked off his Fifth Annual Summer Food Rocks Tour to visit spots throughout Central and Western Massachusetts that provide free meals to kids. With recently proposed cuts to benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, McGovern said it's critical to highlight programs like Summer Eats that help alleviate hunger among youth in the state.
"This stuff is near and dear to my heart, a big chunk of my focus in Congress is dealing with issues of food insecurity, hunger and nutrition, and I believe that programs like the summer meals program are incredibly important," McGovern said during a visit to Worcester's Crompton Park. "Our children are 100 percent of our future, we need to invest in them and that means we need to make sure they have access to healthy, nutritious food."
On Monday evening, children and teens lined up outside a mobile Summer Eats food truck to pick up buffalo chicken wraps, salads and other healthy options. McGovern said Worcester is a trailblazer when it comes to making meals accessible.
"Our goal is to meet kids where they are," said Erin McAleer, president of partner organization Project Bread. "They're already swimming, they're already at the park, so let's bring the food to them."
The Summer Eats program is free for everyone under 18, regardless of free or reduced-price school lunch eligibility. But McAleer and McGovern said the proposed SNAP cuts would still have an impact on children.
"Right now there's categorical eligibility for if a family is receiving SNAP, they're automatically eligible for school meals and school meals really dictate summer meals," McAleer said.
The House farm bill, among many things, calls for more than $20 billion in cuts to SNAP benefits over 10 years, and contains provisions that could lead to over 2 million low-income Americans losing their benefits or seeing declines in financial assistance, according to reports.
The bill, which would reauthorize nutritional assistance, crop subsidy rural development and agricultural research programs, has drawn criticism from Democrats over its stricter work requirements for millions of food stamp recipients.
Republicans, however, argued that it would help more Americans be more self-sufficient.
McGovern said he's concerned with how the proposed cuts could affect local children.
"The Trump administration and Republicans in the House are going after a lot of nutrition programs, especially SNAP. I think that is an awful, cruel thing to do. Under their proposal, millions of people would lose their SNAP benefits," he said. "That just seems to be a rotten thing to do. You throw people off of SNAP, you reduce the family's food budget and that means the kids won't get getting meals on weekends or on some evenings. Food ought to be a fundamental right in this country, I don't know why this is such a controversial idea."
He said the Senate has a bipartisan farm bill that will keep food on families' tables. Now, the House and Senate will have to reconcile the differences.
"These attacks are constant and I think we ought to be figuring out ways to strengthen our nutrition programs, not weaken them," McGovern said.
Other stops along the congressman's tour included the Webster Public Schools, Athol-Royalston Regional School District, Amherst-Pelham Regional School District and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
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