Food is essential to our survival. We eat so we can live, work, play, learn. Yet every day in this country, millions of people do not have enough to eat. In Maine, 16 percent of the population, over 200,000 people, are food insecure – the newer, less troublesome term for “hungry.” Among Maine children, 20 percent are hungry – over 50,000 children live in families that are struggling with hunger.

Among the New England states, Maine has the highest rate of child hunger. In the nation, Maine has the seventh highest rate of overall food insecurity.

“One of our core values as a nation is the belief in opportunity – that every child has the chance to succeed and to achieve their dreams,” says Lisa Davis of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. “But our kids can’t be hungry to learn when they’re just plain hungry.”

For children, proper nutrition is essential – it is one of the major factors that affects their development. For decades, scientific research has made a definitive link between nutrition and brain development, body development, energy to excel in and out of school and reduced risk of chronic disease in adulthood. When children are not getting the nutrition they need to grow up healthy and strong, they are unable to focus on learning; show increased behavioral, mental and physical health problems; face developmental challenges, and dim their prospects of escaping the vicious cycle of poverty. Growing up with nutritional deprivation has long-lasting effects.

In short, food matters. Without it we will not live.

To avert the long-term consequences of nutritional deprivation on children, school districts throughout the state participate in food programs, including breakfast programs, Breakfast After the Bell, lunch programs, after-school programs, at-risk programs and milk-only programs.

School meals help alleviate hunger and poverty, support good nutrition, improve health outcomes and boost learning and are associated with long-term educational attainment for men and women.

For many Maine children, school is the one place where they know they can get a healthy meal. But these programs are, and have been, severely underfunded, putting children in this state dangerously at risk of academic failure and unhealthy physical, mental and behavioral development.

While schools do a considerable amount to prevent hunger among school-age children, these children also face hunger at home. Begun in the 1960s, supplemental food programs – known earlier as food stamps and now as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – sought to curb hunger among individuals and families. SNAP is the most successful federal program for reducing hunger, especially for children, who are at the beginning of their development. But it too cannot always stem the tide of hunger for a family that is struggling, most often working but not making enough to get by.

As definitive as the scientific evidence is, as important as we know nutrition to be in the development and learning of children, as crucial as eating is to health, as successful as the federal food supplement program has been to the most vulnerable of our citizens, the question of “do children deserve to eat nutritiously” is back on the table once again.

A new administrative proposal to change income and asset tests for food program eligibility threatens not only the health and development of children but also the school programs children rely on. This change will substantially reduce participation in free or subsidized school meal programs and overburden school programs already challenged to meet the need.

As children head back to school over the next few weeks, let’s be sure they can they learn, remain healthy, play … that they can just be kids. We must stop these senseless attacks. Stop questioning whether or not kids should eat. Stop taking their meals away. We know better.

Public comments on this destructive proposal are being accepted through Sept. 23. They can be mailed to: Program Design Branch, Program Development Division, Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, 3101 Park Center Drive, Alexandria, VA 22302. Submit comments online at https://tinyurl.com/y2fj4wuv or email comments to [email protected] (include FNS-2018-0037 in the subject line).

Come to the table now, for the sake of kids, and respond to the administration’s attempt to put them at risk by cutting back on their access to food. Hunger must not be their fate.

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