D.C. Council member Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) wants to make sure that primary and secondary students in the District of Columbia are well-fed and has introduced legislation to that effect.

Brandon Todd, the Ward 4 representative on the D.C. Council, introduced a bill to give all D.C. students free lunch. (Courtesy photo)

On Sept. 19, Todd presented to the council the Universal Free Lunch for All Amendment Act of 2017 that would provide free lunches for all students in the District public schools, public charter schools and participating private schools.

“With many families reporting that they are spending upwards of $50 per student, per month on school lunch, this bill would put more money in the pockets of D.C. parents, regardless of zip code or socio-economic status,” Todd said. “Furthermore, no child deserves to go hungry or be humiliated in front of their peers because they are not able to afford lunch. By providing universal free lunch for all District students, we would end lunch shaming while giving a boost to all D.C. families. As the District continues to invest in world-class educational facilities, instructors and programs, we must make this critical investment to ensure all District students have equal access to healthy food at school.”

There are free lunch programs in such cities as Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas and Baltimore.

In a 2010 study, DC Hunger Solutions, an organization that supports public policies that advocate healthy nutrition and food access in the city, states that one in seven households are food insecure or unable to consistently eat meals. The study also says that 26.6 percent of District households with children cannot afford food and a disproportionate amount of that group lives in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

In the District public schools system, school breakfast and after school snacks and suppers are free for any student at all of its schools according to data published by the District of Columbia Public Schools. Eighty-eight District public schools are in a program that serves free lunch, also.

Charter schools and private institutions have differing rules on its school meals programs.

However, Todd’s legislation has drawn fire from leaders of the D.C. Republican Party. “The D.C. Council is at it again,” Jose Cunningham, the chairman, said. “To them, the taxpayer funds they oversee are simply not real. Economically disadvantaged D.C. public school and charter school students already receive free meals – breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner – via the federally funded Title I program.

“Now a council member wants to feed every student in the city, even those from families of great wealth. And, of course, we don’t know how much this bill costs because the D.C. Council doesn’t know either. The D.C. Council has become a hybrid of Model United Nations and the Monopoly board game, but they are playing with billions and billions of other people’s money.”

D.C. Republican Party Executive Director Patrick Mara, a former member of the D.C. State Board of Education representing Ward 1 from 2011-2015, said, “The real beneficiary of this program will be politically connected D.C. government contractors and vendors who already reap generous profits thanks to questionable District government regulations that make D.C. school food programs expensive.”

Todd told the AFRO on Sept. 20 at the D.C. reception kicking off the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference that the program is financially sustainable and will be so if an economic downturn takes place in the District and that the program is for the benefit of school children. “Young people should not be hungry at school,” he said.

The bill has D.C. Council members Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) as co-sponsors. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) referred the bill to the Committee on Education that is chaired by D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large).

D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At Large) told the AFRO at the Ward 5 Democrats meeting on Sept. 25 that he views Todd’s legislation favorably. “I think it is strong,” White said. “There are two reasons I support it. One, there are a lot of low-income people in D.C. and this will definitely help them and two, many young people are embarrassed to let their peers know that they are eligible for the free lunch program and the bill takes away that stigma. This is something the city should do and it has the money to do it.”