Here at Daily Kos, we have long covered the heinous efforts from conservatives to bar hungry students from eating. When it comes to school lunch in the United States, there’s a lot to criticize: the provided breakfast, lunch, and snacks are not always healthy, and they’re not even always available to all those in need. We’ve covered stories of schools threatening to bar students with school lunch debt from attending field trips and proms, as well as instances where children say they felt ashamed or embarrassed after being told their meal of choice wasn’t available to them because of their lunch debt. We’ve seen a school district threaten parents of students with lunch debt with the foster care system (yes, really). It’s grim.
Somehow, Republicans have managed to make it even more dire. In this case, as reported by Politico, Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas is considering whether or not to block funds for school lunch programs because he doesn’t like that the Biden administration is trying to protect trans youth from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Lovely!
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Before we delve into the details of Marshall’s mean-spirited debate, let’s review where we’re at with free and reduced school meals right now across the nation. As Daily Kos covered previously, COVID-19 pandemic waivers provided schools with much more autonomy when it comes to getting hungry children and teenagers fed, including making free meals available to go or at community spaces, like public libraries. These waivers have been especially useful in keeping students fed over the summer.
Waivers also allowed all students to eat for free, eliminating the need for families to tackle application paperwork. Applications for programs like free lunch can be a significant barrier in terms of language literacy and paperwork, not to mention how many people simply won’t apply because of social stigma or concerns about bullying.
Now, President Joe Biden did not include these free-meals-for-all waivers in the budget he signed earlier this year, and since then, lawmakers did not extend them. In short, this has been confusing and frustrating for both parents and teachers, as administrators have had to scramble to figure out new systems for providing free and reduced breakfast and lunch, in addition to the hypothetical mountain of paperwork.
More recently, as covered by NPR, a handful of lawmakers have joined together to introduce the Keep Kids Fed Act, which they hope to pass out of both the House and the Senate and get to Biden before June 30. Why June 30? That’s when the pandemic waivers are set to expire. This is a bipartisan effort, including Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Republican Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas, and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
And bringing it back to Marshall, he is considering blocking this bill from passing because he doesn’t like that the Biden administration is daring to protect trans students even a teensy bit from discrimination.
According to Politico, Marshall tried framing his stance on the issue as though he is not a potential barrier to feeding hungry students. “I’m just afraid that schools in Kansas won’t have school lunches because of this administration’s radical view on transgender issues,” he said in part, adding that he’s afraid they’re going to “raid” the school lunch program over it.
Nothing about the Biden administration is radical, including its stance on trans rights, and especially trans rights in schools. As Daily Kos has continued to cover at length, trans people—and especially trans youth—are especially vulnerable to numerous forms of violence and discrimination, including while at school. Trans youth, for example, report higher rates of bullying, harassment, and assault than their cisgender peers, and are more likely to leave high school without a diploma. They are also more likely to become homeless.
Even still, Marshall is taking the current food crisis as an opportunity to demonize trans folks and pit trans rights against other issues. The reality of the situation, however, is that the USDA has already clarified it won’t remove funding for a school lunch program because the state has enacted anti-trans laws or guidances, like (terrible) ones barring trans girls from participating in girls’ sports or using the correct locker room.
So, what is Marshall opposing? In terms of actual policy, he’s apparently upset that the USDA seeks to allow trans youth (and their parents or guardians) who have faced discrimination over their gender identity pertaining to school lunch to file complaints. For instance, this could look like being denied a meal or being denied access to a reduced or free meal because of their identity or pronouns. School administrators just need to share their policy to fight against discrimination in this area, and sadly but not surprisingly, Republicans aren’t happy about that.
Any excuse to get people hysterical and get those votes though, right?