Free school lunches may be harder to get

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -  A new bill making its way through Congress could make it more difficult for students across the country, including here in Indiana, to get free or reduced school lunches.

HR 5003, sponsored by Indiana Representative Todd Rokita (R) would impact a national program called the Community Eligibility Provision.

Currently, this program allows a school to serve free lunches to all students if the percentage of students at that particular school already on free lunches is at least forty percent. The new bill would increase that percentage to sixty percent.

Supporters of the measure say it would better serve those in need and help cut down on waste and fraud. Opponents, however, counter the bill will just make things more challenging for families in need.

"If community eligibility provision is eliminated from any of these schools that are participating, it shouldn't mean that a child won't have lunch," said Emily Weikert Bryant of Feed Indiana's Hungry, "but it may mean that child may be in arrears, they might not be able to pay for their lunch."

If passed, 120 schools would potentially be impacted in Indiana. Weikert Bryant says that's around 60,000 students.

In a statement, Representative Rokita said, "Child nutrition assistance has long played a critical role in the lives of millions of vulnerable children across the country. These programs help deliver healthy meals to kids who need them and, in most cases, wouldn’t have them otherwise. This bill will strengthen our commitment to those in need of nutrition assistance by enhancing program integrity and fighting fraud, waste, and abuse.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the measure could save taxpayers around one billion dollars over the course of ten years. HR 5003 is currently in committee and could be reviewed or amended as early as next week.

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