Report: Hawaiʻi missed out on $200 million in federal funding to feed children since 2000
Since 2000, Hawaiʻi has missed out on more than $200 million in federal funding for the state’s school meal programs, according to a new joint report released today.
The report, “Feed our Keiki, Support our Schools, Help our Farmers,” was published by Hawaiʻi Appleseed, Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network, the Hawaiʻi Afterschool Alliance and the Ulupono Initiative.
The “Feed our Keiki” report found the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing far less funding to Hawaiʻi than it should, resulting in a financial crisis for Hawaiʻi’s child nutrition programs.
“Because of this lack of federal funding, Hawaiʻi’s state government has to pay between $20 and $30 million annually to keep feeding kids,” said Nicole Woo, Director of Research & Economic Policy at Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network. “Other school districts across the nation pay much less. This means that in Hawaiʻi, less funding is available to cover other important education costs, like pre-K programs, afterschool programs and better pay for teachers.”
This discrepancy stems from a federal analysis that hasn’t been updated since 1979, according to the report. Hawai‘i’s rate was set at 17% over the national average payment. This rate has not been adjusted for more than 40 years (other than for inflation) despite rising food and labor
To make up the difference, the report calls on the USDA and Congress to pass an emergency appropriation for Hawaiʻi. On May 20, Hawaiʻi’s Congressional delegation jointly asked the USDA to cover the “full, accurate cost of school meals” in the state.
Food insecurity is a significant issue in Hawaiʻi. One in three keiki in the state were projected to be food insecure in 2020, according to Feeding America, and the number of schools and sponsors offering federally reimbursed meals in Hawaiʻi has been shrinking steadily over the years, exacerbating the issue.
“To put it another way, five children in an average classroom of 15 go to bed hungry each night in Hawaiʻi,” the report’s executive summary said. And, this is despite:
- Robust national child nutrition programs that provide healthy, low-cost or free meals to children across the nation;
- Annual appropriations of between $23 million and $28 million by the State Legislature for the Hawaiʻi Department of Education’s School Food Services Branch (SFSB); and
- School and children’s programs that offer other meals and snacks that rely on grants, subsidized labor or donations to stay financially afloat.
The report finds Hawaiʻi consistently ranks at the bottom of all states for participation in federal nutrition programs.
The YMCA of Honolulu is currently Hawaiʻi’s sole provider of after school suppers through the federal program, according to the report. It relies on grants and donations to keep the program running even in a limited capacity.
“For too many children, these federally-subsidized meals are the last nutritious meal they will have before the next school or program day,” said Diane Tabangay, Executive Director of Youth Programs at the YMCA of Honolulu. “Parents tell us that knowing their children were fed a complete after school supper helps to keep their grocery expenses down and makes it possible for them to meet other essential needs such as electric bills or gas.”
This lack of federal funding also has implications for the state’s farm to school goals because local farmers and food businesses typically cannot compete with commodity food prices.
“Maximizing available federal funds for student meals is good for our keiki, good for our schools, and good for our local farmers and ranchers,” said Jesse Cooke, vice president of investments and analytics with the Ulupono Initiative. “Leaving federal dollars on the table short-changes our entire community because a portion of those funds would go to Hawaiʻi’s food producers, with that percentage growing each year as the DOE [Department of Education] makes progress toward its goal of 30% locally sourced meals by 2030.”
The complete report can be found at https://hiappleseed.org/publications/feed-our-keiki.