Home > Blog > Food Security

Shriver Center: Congress Not Doing Enough to Fight Poverty

Shriver Center Poverty Scorecard

Yesterday, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law released its Poverty Scorecard 2013, which grades members of Congress based on their 2013 voting record on key pieces of poverty-related legislation. According to the Shriver Center, “on the whole, Congress failed to help the 46.5 million people living in poverty, including the new poor still trying to recover from the recession.”

As I pointed out in an interview with Progress Illinois, the Scorecard is

a very important report and hopefully will generate more momentum behind really addressing the very high poverty rate and the millions of Americans who are living in poverty, even several years after the recession has ended.

The Scorecard does show several areas of progress, including the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Furthermore, while too many bills and amendments that would have hurt people living in poverty gained traction, most were ultimately defeated. These included attacks on SNAP and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which Shriver rightly calls “the most significant anti-poverty legislation to have passed since the War on Poverty.”

Despite assertions to the contrary, the War on Poverty, which was launched 50 years ago, was an enormous success, resulting in a 35 percent decline in the nation’s poverty rate within 10 years. After this initial success, Congressional support for anti-poverty programs waned and progress stalled.

The Scorecard calls on Congress to “engage in meaningful dialogue rather than rhetoric-filled fight” and remembers a time “in the not too-distant Congressional past, despite strong debate about anti-poverty programs, at the end of the day reasonable compromises were reached and progress was made.”

Opportunity for 1,855 More Illinois Schools to Become Hunger Free

A new tool—the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)—ensures that more Illinois children in high-poverty neighborhoods will have access to school meals.

Forty-two percent of all children in Illinois live in households that struggle to afford the food necessary to provide three healthy meals a day. While the National School Lunch (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) help children from low-income families to access low-cost or free meals each school day, participation in these programs has historically required families to complete individual household applications, which schools have to collect, approve, and verify.
School Lunch

Community eligibility, in contrast, allows eligible schools or districts to offer meals to all students at no charge without collecting meal applications. School districts can adopt community eligibility for some or all of their schools if more than 40 percent of their students are “Identified Students”—approved for free meals based on data from other programs that serve low-income children, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

Community eligibility has been phased in over the last three years across the nation, including in Illinois, and now all eligible schools and districts have the opportunity to participate.

Here are some of the impacts of adopting community eligibility:

  • More children eat breakfast and lunch each school day
  • Improved student achievement, diets, and behavior
  • Improved attendance
  • Streamlined program operations, freeing up staff time and resources
  • Reduced administrative burden for schools, districts, and families
  • Reduced stigma associated with eating school meals, especially among teens

701 Illinois schools already offer community eligibility, and another approximately 1,855 schools have been identified as possibly eligible or close to eligible. Schools and districts wanting to participate in the CEP during the 2014-2015 school year have until August 31, 2014 to submit applications to the Illinois State Board of Education.

For more information on CEP eligibility and the application process, visit http://www.isbe.net/nutrition/htmls/nslp-hhfka-ceo.htm.

The powerful anti-poverty effects of food assistance

New estimates from the Brookings Institution confirm the powerful anti-poverty effects of SNAP (formerly food stamps). In Illinois alone, an average of 205,000 individuals – including 94,000 children – were lifted out of poverty each year between 2009 and 2012, according to the Brookings’ estimates.*

Jane Williams and Elizabeth Kneebone of Brookings point out the importance of SNAP to vulnerable populations:

An overwhelmingly large percentage (87 percent) of SNAP recipients live in households with children, seniors, or people with disabilities. Upwards of 21 million children in the United States—more than one in four nationally—live in households receiving monthly food support through SNAP.

With today’s Presidential signing of the new Farm Bill, which includes over $8 billion in cuts to SNAP, we need to protect SNAP from further cuts that would undermine one of our nation’s most powerful anti-poverty programs.


*The Brooking Institution’s state-level estimates are based on national estimates from the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM differs from the traditional poverty measure, developed in the 1960s, by including the effects of many government programs that are not counted in the traditional measure.