The News-Times

‘Hungry children do not learn’

Hayes proposes federal after-school meal program

- By Rob Ryser

As a high school teacher in Waterbury, Jahana Hayes saw the debilitati­ng effects of hunger on kids’ ability to learn.

That’s behind the twoterm congresswo­man’s bill to close the after-school hunger gap with a new federal afternoon meal program.

“Hungry children do not learn,” says Hayes, who represents the Danbury area and Connecticu­t’s 5th Congressio­nal District, in a prepared statement. “Whether it is before, during, or after school, kids need nutritious meals to thrive.”

A freshman congresswo­man from Ohio who introduced the Afterschoo­l Meals Act with Hayes agreed.

“Increasing access to after school meals is a critical way to close the hunger gap many children face between lunch at school one day and breakfast the next,” said U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown, a Democrat whose district reaches from Cleveland to Akron, in a prepared statement. “[T]his common-sense legislatio­n

(would) reduce hunger among vulnerable students and allow them to better engage in after-school programs.”

The after-school meal act, Hayes’ third bill to battle hunger since June, would replace the existing federal after-school snack program and would be delivered through the existing National School Lunch Program.

Among the students who would benefit locally are those in after school programs in Danbury, where more than half of public school students qualify for federally subsidized lunches.

“Better access to these nutritious meals means improved classroom engagement, at-home productivi­ty, interest in activities and more,” said Hayes. “The Afterschoo­l Meals Act will expand access to after school meals for many schools already participat­ing in the National School Lunch Program.”

Hayes, the 2016 national Teacher of the Year, has been outspoken about childhood hunger and about food insecurity in general, especially as hunger’s effects have been exposed by the coronaviru­s crisis.

In May, when Hayes convened her first hearing as chair of the House Agricultur­e Subcommitt­ee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations, she told Hearst Connecticu­t Media that the war on hunger was “very deeply personal” not only because she was a teacher but because she grew up with her grandmothe­r in one of Waterbury’s toughest projects.

Hayes opened a May 26 hearing about the future of the federal food stamps program known as SNAP by telling her subcommitt­ee’s 10 Democrats and eight Republican­s that SNAP had saved her life, and that “SNAP is a hand-up, not a handout.”

Since then, Hayes has introduced a bill to extend school lunch benefits to millions of kids being raised by someone other than their parents, such as grandparen­ts; and a bill to connect 2 million hungry college kids with food stamps.

In November, Hayes held a hearing about connecting needy veterans who have fallen through the cracks with SNAP benefits, calling it “unacceptab­le” that veterans should go hungry after serving their country.

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