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Thought Leader Poverty & Equity Uncategorized

Change the Trajectory

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S. Kelley Henderson, Chief Executive Officer, Action Ministries, Inc.

By S. Kelley Henderson, Chief Executive Officer, Action Ministries

Readers of the “Poverty and Equity” section of the Saporta Report, have hopefully become aware of the challenges of food insecurity for Georgia’s children. Food insecurity is a real challenge, and one that has a long-term impact on our communities, economy, and future workforce.  With 1 in 5 families in Georgia facing food insecurity, we have trajectory that falls short of full potential for too many kids in our state. A tremendous climb ahead to address the systemic and structural barriers that impact these families.

This week, I would like to focus on what might be considered “low hanging fruit” in addressing the immediate needs of these families. The fruit tree analogy is appropriate in many ways, as it offers an image of something that is rooted, nourishing, and if well cared for…productive for the future. Perhaps we will use that over the next few weeks to round out the discussion on how we can actually End Hunger “Period” for kids in Georgia through better collaboration and partnership.

Once immediate step in addressing food insecurity for Georgia’s children is improving access to food where these kids spend on average 38 out of 52 weeks per year, the school.

Free and reduced lunch is not a new concept, but according the research think tank at the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), schools are not fully embracing the latest resources to improve access. Families enroll in free/reduced prices meal programs with a manual form and eligibility screening process. This process is cumbersome and may not capture all of the families who would be eligible, given the barriers facing many families struggling with poverty. About 5 years ago, a new streamlined program titled “Community Eligibility Provision” allowed schools which reach a threshold of 40% of children identified as food insecure, can opt in to provide free lunch to 100% of the students in the school every day.  

This provision would greatly reduce the administrative burden of enrollment and tracking of children participating vs. children who are not. According to a 2019 study by FRAC, participation has been growing in this program, as schools understand the benefits and costs. Nationwide, nearly 65% of eligible schools are participating as of the 2018-2019 school year. Laggards may still need technical support and information to understand how it works, and some are still operating under the “perceived barrier that Community Eligibility will change Title 1 funding allocations dramatically,” which has proven to not be the case (FRAC, May 2019).

In Georgia, 73.8% of school districts qualify, and of the 1,046 schools eligible to participate, about 80% actually do.  That is compared to the 64.9% participation rate nationally and is something to be proud of…go Georgia schools!  If we dig into this a little deeper, the next question should be why are the other 200 schools not opting to reduce administrative cost and adopt this new program? These schools host about 130,000 children, and roughly half of those kids are going through the enrollment process each year to receive free/reduced lunch. If we “understand” that these families are facing many other obstacles due to poverty, why would we continue to force them to jump through yet another hoop?

Perhaps we should give the non-participating schools the benefit of the doubt…the math has to work, right? For a school to reach full benefit without additional cost burden of providing these meals, they need to have 60% or more of their students eligible. On the list, 38 schools have achieved that level as of August 2019, representing 11,000 kids who need these meals.  Another 52 schools, with 15,000 kids impacted, are on the bubble with participation rates of 50-60%. These 90 schools are home to 26,000 hungry kids, and further represent the “low hanging fruit” of our metaphorical tree. Btw…you can expect a copy of the cited report in your inbox within the week…subject line “Did you know?” Let’s get to work…and change the trajectory of these kid’s lives by eliminating the unacceptable struggle of hunger.

This month Action Ministries launched a new initiative called End Hunger “Period” so that you, your church, your business, and your neighbors can be a part of the not so complicated solution of addressing food insecurity for Georgia’s children.  To learn more visit www.endhungerperiod.com and join our team!

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