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House Bill 162 was one of those bills that got lost in the shuffle during the 2019 legislative session, mainly because the of the jockeying back and forth in the West Virginia Legislature on the omnibus bill.

HB 162 (which passed the House of Delegates during one of the special sessions, 95-0, with five members absent) would create programs to ensure West Virginia kids have access to food over the summer and other times when school isn’t in session. A lot of these programs already exist, but this particular bill would provide a hub for information, so people know where to go in their part of the state to get meals for their children. The West Virginia Office of Child Nutrition would also be a centralized location where counties could view other plans already in place or new ones as they develop.

But it wouldn’t be a centralized government program. If passed, each county would assess its own needs and how to best meet them, providing that plan to Child Nutrition.

This makes a lot of sense, because the obstacles to getting meals to children in Kanawha County probably aren’t the same as more rural areas. Transportation seems to be a problem everywhere, but how best to transport food to children or children to food can vary greatly depending on the region.

All of the meals are reimbursed, so it wouldn’t cost the communities anything. The legislation would also provide guidelines and a simpler process for volunteers to get training.

The bill addresses a critical issue. Thousands of West Virginia children live in poverty. More than 10,000 meet the federal definition to be considered homeless. According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and Families Leading Change, one child in every five in the state is struggling with some type of food insecurity. While West Virginia is one of the best in the nation at feeding kids while they’re in school — through breakfast programs and free or reduced lunches — the numbers are drastically different in the summer. About 130,000 children eat lunch at school in West Virgnia. Over the summer, the number of children participating in a food program is about 10,000, according to statistics published in a story from West Virginia Public Broadcasting last year.

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While not every child who eats at school needs access to a summer feeding program, supporters of HB 162 estimate those programs are only reaching about 10 percent of the kids who need them.

All that has to happen for this bill to go into effect is the Senate calling a special session (which Sen. President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, could do during September interims while all the legislators are already at the Capitol) to get the bill passed and to the governor.

In past special sessions this year, the Legislature has had no problem suspending rules to make sure it had time to pass its education reform bill, so why should this be any different? It could be passed in a matter of minutes, the Senate could adjourn and Gov. Justice could sign the bill.

If the Legislature waits until the 2020 regular session, it’s very possible programs wouldn’t be ready to go by the end of the school year, because of all of the preparation required for each county to assess needs and come up with a plan. Why put West Virginia kids through another summer of hardship when they could be getting help sooner?

For all of the divisiveness that has shown itself in the Legislature as of late, this is something surely everyone can agree needs to happen. We’re not aware of any legislators in favor of kids going hungry. Nutrition directly affects these kids’ quality of life, their ability to learn and focus during school and retain knowledge over the summer.

This truly is a no-brainer.

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