A Chance to Make History – For Good – with Prop FF (Intermountain Jewish News)
This piece originally appeared in Intermountain Jewish News on November 4, 2022.
On November 8, Colorado can make history by becoming the first state to institute universal school meals through a ballot initiative.
Earlier this month on Yom Kippur, we internalized the pain and suffering of our ancestors, reflecting on the importance of improving ourselves, our communities, and our world, by fasting for 25 hours.
Yet hunger is a daily reality for too many Americans. Last year more than 38 million people — one in seven households –– struggled to put enough food on the family table. In Colorado, more than one third of our residents lack reliable access to food, including 16 percent of Colorado’s children.
That’s why MAZON, faith leaders, and the communities we represent are urging all voters in Colorado to pass Proposition FF, Healthy School Meals for All. This measure would ensure that no child in our schools will go hungry or face “lunch shaming” if their families lag on lunch payments.
In fact, 60,000 kids in Colorado cannot afford to pay 30 cents for breakfast or 40 cents for lunch at school each day. Many Colorado families utilize the National School Lunch Program, but bureaucracy haslimited its impact. A family of three earning $30,000 per year makes too much to qualify. The federal government temporarily provided universal school meals during the pandemic, and in Colorado, school districts saw up to 40% more students participating. Still, millions of children from low-income households – disproportionately Black, Indigenous, Latino, and other communities of color – lost access to nutritious food when schools went remote.
We know that full stomachs ensure stronger educational outcomes. The School Nutrition Association notes that balanced daily nutrition contributes to student success academically and outside the classroom. New research from Tufts University’s School of Nutrition Science and Policy also shows that schools are the main source of the healthiest food.
The pandemic universal school meals programs are set to expire as surging inflation has stripped even more children of access to their most reliable and nutritious daily meal. Millions of children are back to wondering where their next meal will come from.
Proposition FF can overcome this potential crisis by creating a statewide Healthy School Meals for All program, which would reimburse all participating public school districts for providing free breakfasts and lunches to all students in need. Only California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Vermont have extended universal free meals at least through the 2022-23 school year.
For most Colorado voters, securing free school meals simply requires a ballot vote. Since Healthy School Meals For All would be funded by limiting state income tax deductions for the very top 5 percent wage bracket, voting YES on Prop FF equates to making a charitable donation to a cause we value.
During Sukkot we were reminded of our abundance and the notion of Pe’ah, from Leviticus 19:9-11, which implores us to leave the corners of our fields, or the remains of our harvests, to the poor and the stranger.
In a sense, Proposition FF would enable us to act on our values by supporting a program to provide free, nutritious, and locally-sourced meals to children statewide. But all of us, regardless of economic status, can use our voices — our votes — to make that happen.
Every person, and especially our children, should have enough to eat. Vote YES on Proposition FF forfree, healthy meals for Colorado kids and let them live in dignity, without stigma or shame.
Paul Sherman of Denver is Senior Outreach Manager for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. He lives in Denver.
Rabbi Eliot J Baskin is the Chaplain at Shalom Park Nursing Home in Aurora and a volunteers withTogether Colorado Metro Faith Caucus in Denver.