Safeguard all our children against hunger

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What could be more important than how we care for our children? Pragmatists recognize that how we treat our children today in their dependency will shape how they treat us tomorrow in our old age. People of faith recognize all God’s children are just that – created in the creator’s image. High-minded folks appreciate our most worthy charge as a society is to care well for all our children. Followers of Christ, observe, Jesus fed the hungry and taught us to do the same.

While we may come at caring for children from different starting points, we all know in our depths that the policies and practices we choose reflect our values as a nation. In a state where 1 in 7 children live in homes that experience food insecurity, the Montana Association of Christians urges Senators Daines and Tester to hold this truth close as Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation comes back into focus.

Child Nutrition Reauthorization is a complex and vital act, which provides the framework for necessary safeguards against hunger for our smallest Montanans. It is an investment in families and public health – in crime prevention and national defense. And it is a message to every young person in this country that we take seriously the moral imperative of closing gaps in basic needs. That every child is precious and deserves the chance to learn, grow and succeed.

The Federal School Lunch and Breakfast programs are some of the most fundamental pieces of CNR and are among the most effective tools we have in preventing childhood hunger. Nearly 75,000 children, including 46,000 low-income students, access healthy meals in Montana schools through the school lunch program each day. Strong nutrition standards and meaningful reimbursements for meal programs ensure that students have good food in their bellies and go to class able to learn.

Rolled out nationwide in 2014, the Community Eligibility Provision has made these vital programs even more effective. CEP is a tool that allows schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students in high-poverty schools and districts. CEP increases participation in meal programs, reduces stigma and reduces burdensome paperwork for families and program administrators. The provision is especially important in Montana’s small rural and tribal areas, where barriers to food access are great and meal programs are sometimes run by few, or even a single person. Maintaining and strengthening CEP should be a top priority for Montana’s congressional leaders.

Also within CNR is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children, or WIC. WIC has been supporting the health and nutrition outcomes of income-qualifying families for 45 years. WIC provides supplementary foods that are nutritionally specific for early development. WIC also offers support to new parents, screens for numerous health indicators, provides important educational resources, and reinforces the safety net for young families who are struggling economically. Through CNR, we have the opportunity to ensure that more children and families are served by this vital program.

The Montana Association of Christians believes all Christians mean it when praying, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Rejoicing with families who can and do provide well for their children, the Montana Association of Christians believes we share in the responsibility to safeguard all our children against hunger in every Montana community. Child Nutrition Reauthorization is an opportunity to work in partnership – across aisles for children across the state.

We are grateful for the work of our senators and urge them both to represent what is in the best interest of our state and nation. Senators Daines and Tester, please support a strong CNR that maintains and improves CEP, strengthens WIC, and that builds upon the successes of this important and effective legislation. Our kids are counting on you.

—Rev. Kendra Wilde is president of Montana Association of Christians.

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