Congressman Lawson fights to improve nutrition, access to food in schools

By: Lanetra Bennett
April 18, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- U.S. Representative Al Lawson says food insecurity is a real and pressing issue for families in the Big Bend.

He says one in every four families has been on food stamps in the past year. That's twice the national average.

Congressman Lawson is working to improve poverty issues in the area.

Tallahassee resident Jalesia Hunter is grateful that her son gets free lunch at school. She said, "It's a good opportunity for me because I don't have to pay for him lunch."

Tallahassee resident Victoria Wyche said, "You have to look at how many kids that actually look forward to just that one meal a day. So, it's very important to certain kids because that's the only meal that they get sometimes."

Manny Joanos, the director of food services for Leon County Schools says there's been a drastic increase in poverty in Leon County. He says the district has gone from eight schools to all schools being on the Community Eligibility Program (C.E.P.)

C.E.P. provides free breakfast and lunch for every student. The federal government reimburses the school district.

Joanos said, "There are a lot of kids that come back on Monday that are hungry. That's because they're not eating on the weekend. So, we see this as a value to all of our students and all of our families."

A school has to have a poverty population of 40 percent to qualify for C.E.P. Joanos says 27 out of Leo County's 28 schools have a poverty population over 60 percent.

He says half of those schools have a 100 percent poverty level.

Congressman Al Lawson wants to know why. "Is it a lack of jobs? Is it lack of educational opportunities? What can we do to improve it? There got to be some other factors that are taking place. We aim to try to determine what they are."

In discussing the issue, Congressman Lawson is including school nutrition directors from all eight counties in Florida's fifth congressional district. Once problems are identified, their goal is to fix them.

Lawson is holding a series of conference calls and meetings with school leaders and agriculture officials in the state. He's taking the information back to Congress to come up with solutions.

He is also discussing the Farm Bill. Lawson says it's one of the most important bills right now. He says with President Donald Trump's cuts in the Farm Bill, he wants to know if the cuts are legitimate and if he needs to fight against it.

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