April 09, 2020

Making sure kids get food

I’m not a terribly a superstitious person — except maybe for things like throwing spilled salt over the left shoulder. Or not rocking an empty chair. Or knocking on wood when speaking of the future.

But those are purely scientific.

I have one superstition I take seriously: It is very bad luck in West Virginia to call a good piece of legislation or public policy a “no-brainer.” For some reason, the no-brainers are the hardest things to get done here.

A case in point during the most recent legislative session was House Bill 2794. It really was, well, one of those bills that should not have required undue cerebral effort. It was a very short and simple bipartisan bill addressing summer and out-of-school food programs for K-12 students.

It would have required county school systems, with the assistance of the Office of Child Nutrition, to survey students about the availability of nutritious food when schools were closed to determine local food needs. Counties would have been required to collect information about the availability of nonschool food resources and distribute this information to all students. This wouldn’t be that hard. Often organizations such as Family Resource Networks or public libraries already have that information.

It would have required that counties provide or participate in training opportunities to provide information for organizations wishing to host summer or nonschool feeding sites again with Office of Child Nutrition assistance.

Finally, it would have counties report survey results, a summary of activities, plans and recommendations for feeding kids when school isn’t in session to the Child Nutrition Office, which would share information about innovative and successful program initiatives around the state to promote best practices.

The idea wasn’t just to promote summer feeding but also to prepare counties to make sure kids have access to nutritious food in emergency situations. Like the one we’re in right now.

Friends of mine, including students, worked hard to move this bill, which eventually passed the House Education Committee. Unfortunately, it was referred to the Finance Committee, even though it had no cost to the state budget.

After heroic efforts by a lot of people, the bill was placed on the agenda of House Finance and then, deliberately, skipped over. The clock ran out and the bill died.

So here we are, in a serious emergency of unknown duration. Some counties are doing amazing work in getting food out and partnering with other organizations and volunteers. Still, some kids are falling through the cracks.

If there was ever a time for something like HB 2794, this would be it.

It would be a great if Gov. Jim Justice would finish what some legislators started by issuing an executive order enacting key provisions of the bill. In or out of school, kids still need to eat.

(This ran as an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.)

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