The Idaho Department of Education is set to launch its Summer Food Service Program next week, intended to be funded entirely by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program will provide taxpayer-funded meals to children and adults at several locations throughout the state.
A colorful invitational postcard inviting participation in the program proclaims:
“Just show up and eat on site.”
“No income requirements,” and
“No questions asked.”
While the postcard was mailed throughout the state, some school districts sent information home with students as well.
While the program advertises “free meals for all kids 1-18,” adults can also acquire meals and snacks from the program, although they must pay a fee, normally $3.50 per meal.
The USDA will send money to the state Department of Education to pay for the program, but it’s unknown at this point how much will be sent.
“Idaho receives money based on the number of reimbursable meals served,” said Melissa McGrath, spokesperson for the Department of Education. “We will not know what that number is until the summer is over. However, last year it was $4,234,040.”
McGrath also told IdahoReporter.com that the USDA has provided $15,000 to Idaho for marketing and advertising of the program.
The program will distribute meals and snacks throughout the state, but while the Department of Education administers the program, schools are not the only places where consumers will be served. Private camps and nonprofit groups can apply to sponsor a Summer Food Service Program site.
“If an organization already provides services to the community and has capable staff and good management practices to run a food service, the organization can apply with us,” McGrath told IdahoReporter.com.
“The cost (of the program) is intended to be from 100 percent USDA federal funds,” McGrath explained. “If a local community decided to put monies into the program that would be their decision. However, USDA intends on this to be 100 percent from USDA federal funds.”
She added that the food is selected and served according to strict federal nutrition guidelines.
Harmon Hurren, operations officer for the Nampa School District, concurs with McGrath on the expected reimbursement from the USDA. “We should be fully reimbursed from the federal government for both materials and labor costs,” he told IdahoReporter.com, and notes that four school campuses in the Nampa district will participate in the program.
Similarly, Laura Rumpler, spokesperson for Coeur d’Alene School District, confirms that it expects to be fully reimbursed by the USDA.
As well intentioned as the program might be in providing food for those in need, it is not necessarily popular with one county commissioner and one state representative.
“This is not compassion, nor is it helpful,” Jim Chmelik, Idaho County commissioner, told IdahoReporter.com. “I see how programs like these play out in my own rural county and they breed government dependency. Worse yet, this illustrates one of our state’s biggest problems. Idaho is always beholden to the federal government. If the state Department of Education stood up and said ‘no’ to a program like this, then the feds would take money away from us in some other area. But at some point we have to start saying ‘no.’”
Rep. Steve Harris, R-Meridian, also has problems with the program. “I want the Department of Education to focus on education,” he said. “I don’t think this is an appropriate role for schools or for the Department of Education.”
Harris expressed concern that the program is devoid of any sort of “means testing,” a process used in other social welfare programs to determine how financially needy a recipient is before he can receive a government-funded benefit. “I think this kind of work is best done through private charities,” he noted, “and government programs of this sort tend to crowd out private charities.”
The state Department of Education website provides a link where consumers can find a Summer Food Service Program location. It can be viewed HERE