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September 10, 2019

Reps. Trone, Wild, Fitzpatrick, Dingell, Bacon Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Children Affected by the Opioid Epidemic Access Free School Meals



Hannah Muldavin,

Reps. Trone, Wild, Fitzpatrick, Dingell, Bacon Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Children Affected by the Opioid Epidemic Access Free School Meals

The SPARK Act would make children in kinship care eligible for free school meal program

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Representatives David Trone (D-MD), Susan Wild (D-PA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Don Bacon (R-NE) introduced the Schools Preventing Hunger in At-Risk Kids (SPARK) Act, bipartisan legislation which would extend the free school meals program to the 400,000 children living with grandparents or in other arrangements – known as kinship care – who are not currently eligible.  

“The opioid epidemic is our most pressing public health crisis, and it doesn’t spare anyone – even our children,” Trone said. “I’ve met many families who have stepped up to care for a child whose parents are suffering from addiction, and they deserve our support. This legislation ensures students who have been affected by the opioid epidemic are in the best position to learn and thrive.”

“We know the consequences of the opioid crisis are devastating and far-reaching but one of the lesser known impacts of the opioid crisis is on children who have lost parents and guardians to overdoses,” Wild said. “We need to better support all families who have honorably stepped up to care for these vulnerable kids. This bill ensures no child falls through the cracks of school meal programs – the source of some children’s only healthy meal of the day – so they can focus on school and not on their empty stomach.”

Approximately 400,000 children are estimated to be diverted from child welfare agencies to kinship care arrangements. As the country continues to struggle with the impact of the opioid crisis, affected children are often placed in kinship care arrangements that do not meet the current definition of foster care. The SPARK Act clarifies that children who have been placed with a relative or family friend through a state agency receiving federal funding would be given the same streamlined school nutrition support as children in foster care. 

“No child should go to bed hungry at night, nor go to school on an empty stomach,” Fitzpatrick said. “Research shows that children who eat proper meals perform better in the classroom. This bipartisan legislation is an important step to making sure all American kids have equal opportunities to succeed.”

“Right now, a crack in the system leaves too many children without access to critical meals at school,” Dingell said. “Kids in foster care are under tremendous stress, but staying with family or family friends in kinship care can be more familiar and stable. These children deserve the same access to nutritious school meals without the need of extra paperwork for families or schools.”

“As cosponsor of the SPARK Act and co-chair of the Congressional Foster Youth Caucus, I know this legislation will help children in kinship care obtain the nutrition they need in order to perform better at school, stay physically active, and live a healthier lifestyle,” Bacon said. “These children are often placed with a relative or family friend through a state agency and are receiving federal funding. Congress has the ability to help these at-risk children and prevent hunger through school meal programs that give automatic eligibility to all students, despite their upbringing or living situation.”

Food insecurity continues to be a widespread problem among children and families with 13.9 percent of households with children experiencing food insecurity in 2018.  For many of these kids, their school lunch is often their only healthy meal of the day – making school meal programs are critical to reducing child hunger.

The full list of cosponsors include Reps. Gwen Moore (WI-04), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Mike Thompson (CA-05), Karen Bass (CA-37), Judy Chu (CA-27), David Trone (MD-06), Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Alcee Hastings (FL-20), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Madeleine Dean (PA-04), Al Lawson (FL-05), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), Deb Haaland (NM-01), James P. McGovern (MC-02) , Josh Harder (CA-10), José E. Serrano (NY-15), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), James R. Langevin (RI-02), Tim Ryan (OH-13), Chris Pappas (NH-01), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (American Samoa).