WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Susan Wild (D-PA), Don Bacon (R-NE), and David Trone (D-MD) recently introduced the Schools Preventing Hunger in At-Risk Kids (SPARK) Act, bipartisan legislation which would expand free school meals programs for approximately 400,000 children living with grandparents or in other arrangements – known as kinship care - who are not currently categorically eligible.
“Food insecurity poses a serious risk to a child’s health and development, and the opioid epidemic has only exacerbated the issue. No child should have to wonder when their next meal will come,” Rep. Fitzpatrick said. “I am proud to join my bipartisan colleagues to support this critical legislation that will expand free school meals to at-risk children in kinship care.”
“As our country continues to grapple with the consequences of the opioid crisis, we must remember to support those who are directly impacted the most: children who have lost parents and guardians to overdoses,” said Rep. Wild. “It’s imperative that we care for vulnerable children by ensuring everyone - especially kids in kindship care – don’t fall through the cracks of school lunch programs. Dependable, nutritious school meals each day can go a long way for improving our children’s mental and physical health, which is why I’m incredibly proud to have introduced this potentially life-changing bill.”
“As a foster-to-adopt parent and co-chair of the Congressional Foster Youth Caucus, I know the SPARK Act will help children in kinship care obtain the nutrition they need in order to perform better at school, stay physically active, and live a healthier lifestyle,” Rep. Bacon said. “Congress has the ability to help these at-risk children and prevent hunger through school meal programs that give automatic eligibility to all students, despite their upbringing or living situation.”
“The opioid epidemic has only become more of a public health crisis during the pandemic, and it doesn’t spare anyone – even our children,” Rep. Trone said. "I’ve met many families who have stepped up to care for a child whose parents are suffering from addiction, and they deserve our support. This legislation ensures students who have been affected by the opioid epidemic are in the best position to learn and thrive."
Among households with children, 13.6 percent experienced food insecurity in 2019, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture research. The SPARK Act builds upon the work of the Health Hunger-Free Kids Act, which automatically qualified all foster children in foster care for free school meal programs, by also extending the eligibility to children who have been placed in kinship care arrangements.
Currently, children in foster care are categorically eligible for free school meals; however, the approximately 400,000 children who are diverted from child welfare agencies to kinship care arrangements are not. For many of these children, their school lunch is often their only healthy meal of the day – making school meal programs critical to reducing child hunger.
The full list of cosponsors includes Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Reps. Susan Wild (PA-07), Don Bacon (NE-02), David Trone (MD-06), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Jim Langevin (RI-02), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), and Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05).
Full bill text is available here.