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Today I heard that more than 57% of Georgia’s kids are eligible for free and reduced lunches in public schools. According to statistics on the StateMaster website, Georgia places fifth in the nation in number of eligible kids. While there has been a decrease in students lined up for the reduced lunch (137,133 last year to 111,793 this year), the number of kids eligible for free lunch has soared, increasing by more than 52,000 kids in just one year (up to 850,248 from 797,772). Of those eligible, about 76% enroll.

Think about the need here, and then extrapolate the need for some of those same kids on evenings and weekends, not to mention over the summer, where there may be few food programs to help them and their families. Think about how hard it is to concentrate on school work when your stomach is growling, or think about how much of the fresher, healthier food tends to be more expensive. Also think about how important it is to advocate on behalf of healthy school lunches for all kids, and especially for those for whom it may be their only meal.

(Note: Most of the free and reduced lunch funding comes from the federal level, with the rest made up by state and local dollars.  To qualify for reduced-price lunches, a family of four must make no more than $40,793. For free lunches, the income threshold is $28,665.)

This Tuesday Voices and Family Connection were given the opportunity to present to the House Committee on Children and Youth. Looking at the fact that about one child out of five in Georgia lives at or below the poverty level, and that more than a third of Georgia’s kids live in a family where no parent has full-time, year-round employment, where do you start to explain the dilemma our kids face?

Both organizations are great resources for laying out the case. Both have access to thorough data, wherever it exists, and both understand the interrelation of kids’ issues to each other: e.g. Georgia can not be successful if we don’t have an educated workforce, schools can not educate kids if those kids are sick, hungry, or are under stress at home, society can not function well if families are not equipped with the tools and knowledge to care for their children, and so on and so forth.

The key is to help policy makers prioritize the help kids get is to make sure that evidence-based information is readily available and easy to understand. Beyond that, helping lawmakers understand the navigation of local, state and federal dollars and service opportunities so that they can allocate resources in the most effective manner is crucial. Both Voices and Family Connection are helpful and knowledgeable resources for such strategy. I hope lawmakers will take full advantage of the help we provide and choose to really make a difference in outcomes for kids.

Urgent Issues for Georgia’s Children in 2011 PowerPoint

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