There’s still time to save kids from misguided ploy to deny them food


Leila Navidi

All the kindergarten students at Elizondo Elementary School eat lunch together in North Las Vegas Thursday, September 29, 2011.

Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019 | 2 a.m.

The Trump administration wants to take food out of the mouths of millions of American children, including thousands in Clark County.

But for two more days, there’s a way for Southern Nevadans to speak up and help protect our kids.

Through Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting public comments on a proposal that would restrict access to benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and to free and reduced-price school lunches.

The cutback would eliminate eligibility for 982,000 students nationwide to receive school lunches and 3 million to receive SNAP benefits, as reported in a Department of Agriculture analysis. And while it wasn’t immediately clear how many Southern Nevada students would be affected, it would be a significant percentage of the approximately 200,000 local kids who get free and reduced-price lunches from Clark County School District schools.

The proposal would cut access by reining in a federal policy known as broad-based categorical eligibility, which has allowed Nevada and 41 other states to offer food assistance to households whose income exceeds the federal level for SNAP benefits. The income maximum for SNAP is 130% of the poverty level, but broad-based categorical eligibility extends benefits to households making up to 200% of the poverty level.

The presidential administration and congressional Republicans who support the proposed change claim it would close a “loophole” that is providing food assistance to people who aren’t poor enough to really need it.

But that’s disingenuous. It’s heartless too, because the families getting assistance are hardly wealthy. A family of four earning 131% of the poverty scale brings home just $33,723 per year.

For many families who are receiving assistance, even those at the higher end of the eligibility cut-off, subsistent food budgets are a fact of life after paying for necessities such as rent, utilities and transportation.

Reducing their eligibility to food assistance amounts to waging war on the poor.

Yes, there are undoubtedly abuses of these benefits. But certainly not enough to justify denying children SNAP benefits, which provide for food at home, or robbing them of a school lunch that may be their only nutritious meal of the day.

Meanwhile, the USDA says the rollback would save the federal government $90 million a year, which is such a tiny sliver of the federal budget deficit of nearly $1 trillion that it might be best illustrated this way — at the same percentage on a $10,000 deficit, it would amount to 90 cents.

On the other end of that equation, the money spent on food assistance is well worth spending. Providing meals before, during and after school yields immediate and long-term health benefits for children, thereby reducing medical expenses for families and easing reliance on publicly funded health care assistance. School lunch programs also are proven to boost student performance in the classroom and reduce behavioral problems, putting children on a path to success as adults.

In a country as prosperous as the U.S., there’s no need for the more vulnerable among us to have to worry about food security. We can help them. It’s what our compassionate, conscientious country does.

So now, with children in our region and across the nation in jeopardy of being denied the food they need, we urge our readers to tell the Trump administration to stand down.