September 22, 2016

More not all bad

This op-ed of mine on WV's recent gains in child nutrition ran in today's Gazette-Mail:

Now that we’re officially back to school, some folks out there may have noticed that more kids are eating school meals and are doing so at no cost to families. As I’ll try to show below, that’s a big deal and a good thing for lots of reasons.

In West Virginia, where we’re used to leading the pack on the bad lists and bringing up the rear on good ones, we’ve even taken the lead on an important child nutrition measure.

For the last two years, our state has led the nation in school breakfast participation. We even beat ourselves by 9 percent in the most recent year. What this means is that over 82 percent of low-income kids in the state received free school breakfasts, compared with a national average of just 54.3 percent.

One reason for the increase was the passage in 2013 of the Feed to Achieve Act, which had broad bipartisan support. One thing the bill did was require schools to offer innovative ways of delivering breakfast to kids.

The old way of doing it, before classes began, just wasn’t cutting it. New ways included grab and go breakfasts, breakfasts after first period and breakfasts in the classroom. And they proved to be a hit.

Some friends of mine have done the math and they found that our state served 5.88 million more breakfasts last year than in 2013.

More schools statewide are also taking advantage of the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows schools to provide free meals to all students in schools where 40 percent or more of students are low-income.

That provision can help improve child nutrition, along with improving learning and reducing discipline problems. It also gives a break to working parents, removes issues of stigma, and can save schools time and money on paperwork.

Feed to Achieve and CEP complement each other. As innovative ways of delivering breakfasts increase, participation rates go up. So do federal reimbursements to schools, which makes CEP more appealing.

At last count — and the numbers change constantly — out of 54 eligible counties, all but six have implemented CEP at some or all schools. The most recent to come aboard was Pocahontas County, where the school board voted to move ahead last month. Over 20 counties provide free meals to all students countywide. And no county that has had CEP since 2012 has chosen to drop the program.

According to the latest data I have, the only eligible counties which have refused to implement the Community Eligibility Program in any schools were Putnam, Monroe, Tucker, Hampshire, Monongalia, and Hancock. (To be fair to Monongalia and Tucker counties, these have gone back and forth in terms of eligibility.)

All in all, Feed to Achieve and CEP have been a good deal for kids, schools and parents. But it’s an even bigger deal than that.

According to the Food Research & Action Center, “Mounting evidence shows that healthy school meals play a key role in supporting the well-being of children, including alleviating food insecurity; improving dietary intake; and mitigating obesity…”

Specifically, the data suggests that free or reduced school meals reduce food insecurity by at least 3.8 percent and also reduces breakfast-skipping. Low-income students who participate have better diet quality than those who don’t.

There are also major potential long-term health benefits. Participation in federally funded child feeding programs is associated with a significantly lower body mass index. According to research published in the Journal of Econometrics, school meal participation reduces obesity rates by at least 17 percent.

The reasons for this are pretty simple. As a school cook in Pocahontas County put it at a school board meeting, “I think we’d see a lot less candy bars, cookies, potato chips and soda pop.”

In a state where it has been estimated that 7 out of 10 health care dollars are spent on chronic diseases often associated with obesity, that’s a huge deal. No pun intended.

The Food Research & Action Center concludes that “Schools that offer breakfast free to all students in the classroom report decreases in discipline, psychological problems, visits to school nurses and tardiness; increases in student attentiveness and attendance; and generally improved learning environments.”

In these troubled times, it’s nice to see West Virginia shine. If we keep up the progress we’ve made in this important area, we can shine even brighter in the future.

- See more at:

September 21, 2016

Remembering Perry Mann

I was sad to hear this week of the passing of Perry Mann, progressive, lawyer,writer and general wise man at age 95. Many people in and around West Virginia became huge fans of his writings as they appeared in the Gazette-Mail and elsewhere.

I first "met" him in the mid 1990s, when I wrote a snarky column about pseudo-Christian right wing welfare reform/poor bashing efforts that quoted William Blake:

THE VISION OF CHRIST that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy...

Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white.
Perry sent me a similar column of his own where Blake played a role. I guess it was the start of a literary/political long distance bromance.

Over the years, I became a huge fan of his writing and thoughts, which have now been compiled in at least two books, Mann and Nature and Secular Mann. We didn't agree about everything. I leaned more to the religious side of things  that the skeptical Mann and chose to believe in at least some free will while he was a pretty strict determinist, but I always felt like we were on the same side.

A few years back, my friend Ted Boettner and I visited his home town of Hinton and dropped by to see him at his book lined law office with the votive offering of a bottle of wine..

Nonbeliever though he was, we asked him to bestow a biblical style patriarchal blessing on us and he graciously agreed. I'm glad we asked. It really was a blessing.

I'd really like to think that he's pleasantly surprised right now not to have blinked to extinction.

Hamlet gets the last word:

"He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again."

September 19, 2016

Some good news. No, really

These days I've been trying whenever possible to highlight any good news when it shows up. On bit of that comes from the Census Bureau, which recently released it's data on poverty and health coverage. Turns out that thanks largely to Medicaid expansion, WV is a national leader in health care coverage.

The percentage of uninsured decreased from 14 to 6 percent and the numbers dropped from 255,000 to 108,000. Not universal yet but moving in the right direction. As I've said before Medicaid expansion in WV has been the biggest victory for social justice on my watch and it's one worth going all out to protect.

Then there's this: according to the WV Division of Corrections, Medicaid expansion is saving money while also providing needed care. By providing help with substance abuse and addiction, it could even reduce recidivism. Here's a snippet from the article:

“One of the drivers behind a criminal history, directly or indirectly, is a substance abuse problem,” Jim Rubenstein, commissioner of the state Division of Corrections told the Gazette-Mail in 2014. “[Medicaid coverage] could make a critical difference, by having some kind of coverage that would gain these individuals access to needed treatment or counseling. And while we know that substance abuse is a big issue, to have coverage for basic medical care could also make a difference in their lives as well.” 
Taken all together this is a pretty big deal.