November 04, 2019

Udall’s Provision to Combat Lunch Shaming Passes Senate

Udall, working with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), included language as part of USDA funding bill to direct agency to stop school practices that publicly shame students for unpaid lunch fees

WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) announced that his provision directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prevent the practice of lunch shaming passed the Senate as part of the FY 2020 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. The provision was co-sponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The anti-lunch shaming provision is based on the bipartisan legislation Udall and Collins introduced in April. The language directs the Secretary of Agriculture to provide additional guidance to program operators to curb the ongoing cruel practice of shaming school children for unpaid school lunch fees. Under the provision, schools would be encouraged to identify approaches that protect children from public embarrassment; communicate outstanding unpaid school lunch fees with the parent or guardian, not the child; and take additional steps to ensure that all students who qualify for free and reduced meals are efficiently enrolled to receive them.

"Lunch shaming is a practice so cruel and backwards that most Americans are shocked to know it happens. And yet some school districts across the country continue to use these harmful tactics. Instead of stigmatizing kids who come from struggling households, withholding hot meals from students, and depriving some children of what may be their only healthy meal of the day, we should be working to find solutions to end childhood hunger and to support families in need,” said Udall, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. “The Senate passing this provision is an important step—and we look forwards to USDA taking action. We know that hunger can be an insurmountable barrier to success in the classroom. That is why I was proud when New Mexico became the first state in the country to outlaw the practice of lunch shaming and I will continue to do everything I can in the Senate to pass my legislation, the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act, so no child will have to spend their time at school feeling ashamed of a debt they have no power to pay.” 

For some students, meal shaming stands between them and their only meal of the day. No child should ever have to go to the school cafeteria and be publicly humiliated because they cannot afford their lunch. According to a 2014 report by the USDA, nearly half of all school districts used some form of lunch shaming to compel parents to pay for child’s school meals. Often, students’ hot lunches are taken away and replaced with an alternative meal, such as a cold cheese sandwich. In other cases, children are forced to do chores in front of their peers, made to wear wristbands or handstamps declaring their inability to pay, or have their lunch thrown out as their friends and classmates look on. Unfortunately, stories continue to be told from across the country about practices of lunch shaming affecting students inside and out of school cafeterias.

In March of 2017, New Mexico passed the first law in the United States to prohibit lunch shaming. This legislation, championed by New Mexico Appleseed, gained national attention and spurred a number of other states to pass legislation combating lunch shaming. Some of the states that passed legislation include: Maine, Virginia, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Texas, Iowa, Washington, Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania; a variety of other state legislatures are currently considering measures to address this shameful practice. It is time that we put a stop to this draconian practice and ensure that students can focus on their studies.