About a month ago, with the investigations into President Donald Trump ramping up, we warned against losing sight of less dramatic issues that nonetheless have real impact on people’s lives, such as an effort to cut nutrition assistance for millions of low-income Americans, including children.

Since that time, there have been more revelations regarding obvious and potential impeachable offenses committed by the president.

However, the news on the anti-hunger front has also gotten worse — and it’s clear that it is going to take a long-term fight to solidify food assistance as a core American value.

At issue is a rule change for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, that would have cut assistance to families on the cusp of poverty. Initially, analysis found that the change would have withdrawn assistance from about 1 million families and kept about 500,000 children from automatically receiving free or reduced-price lunch.

An estimated 44,000 Mainers would have been affected, including children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

That was enough to generate condemnation from tens of thousands of everyday Americans, 17 governors — including Maine Gov. Janet Mills — and all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation.


But then it got worse.

A second analysis, only made public after the chairman of the House Education Committee pushed for it, estimated that nearly 1 million children would lose automatic eligibility. More than half of those students would be cut off from free and reduced-price lunch altogether; about 45 percent of would still be eligible, but would have to apply.

That’s important because experience shows that making students sign up for free lunch cuts down on participation, largely because of the stubborn stigma attached to it.

And it will effect more than just low-income students. The federal government allows schools where more than 40 percent of students automatically qualify for free and reduced-price lunch to offer the program to all of its students under what’s known as the Community Eligibility Provision.

By cutting the number of kids who automatically qualify, the plan would disqualify whole schools, too, leaving many students who otherwise would have received meals out in the cold.

If the goal is to make sure students have food to eat, this is the wrong way of going about it. And if kids don’t get the food they need, they will suffer — school meals have been shown to be crucial to student health, well-being and academic achievement.


In fact, studies have found that universal free school lunch increase test scores broadly, not just for poor students.

As before, many Americans reacted to these planned cuts with horror. In a rare recognition of the criticism, the Trump administration has reopened comments on the plan for 14 days.

But this is only a short armistice in an ongoing war. The Trump administration has tried on other occasions to cut eligibility to nutrition assistance. And Maine residents who watched Gov. Paul LePage repeatedly try to do the same during his two terms know that it didn’t start with Donald Trump.

Instead of fighting to prevent cuts, we should be talking about expanding the school meals program so that all schools — and all their students — can benefit.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, have proposed a bill that would provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, as well as summer meals, to all children. Less ambitiously, the rules governing community eligibility could be loosened, allowing more school districts to opt in.

In any case, we should be figuring out the best way to get reliable meals to more children, not arguing over whether they really deserve them.

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