WASHINGTON — Charity Edwards is unemployed and separated from her husband, raising four kids on a monthly income of $1,100.
She gets another $419 a month in food stamps to help feed her two girls, ages 6 and 11, and her two boys, ages 15 and 17.
“There’s not money left to buy clothes,” said Edwards, 38, of Everett, Wash.
Under a bill introduced Wednesday by Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, Edwards would get $600 – $150 per child – to buy food when schools are not in session each summer.
Murray jumped into the latest food fray on Capitol Hill, where members of Congress are bickering over school lunch rules, including how much to spend on poor children and what foods would most benefit them.
She said her plan would cost $42 billion over 10 years, helping 30 million kids beginning in 2016.
The issues will come to a head in coming weeks as Congress finalizes new spending plans for the Agriculture Department, which oversees school lunches and the WIC program.
But finding consensus will be difficult.
In the House, many Republicans worry that the school lunch program already is too costly.
And they fear it will get even more expensive with new federal guidelines backed by first lady Michelle Obama. They would require schools to offer more fruits and vegetables, whole wheat products and low-sodium foods. The guidelines have been phased in over the past two years, with more changes due this year.
Critics say it’s a mistake to force schools to offer food that many students refuse to eat, resulting in more food in the garbage and fewer students eating the meals.
“Less kids are buying school lunches and that undermines the intention to increase healthy eating in schools,” said Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, the chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. After hosting a school meal forum in his home state last month, Aderholt said it was time “to hit the pause button” on new guidelines.
On Tuesday, his panel approved a bill that would let districts get waivers to opt out of the healthier school lunch guidelines if they’re struggling financially to meet them. On the same day, the Agriculture Department announced that it would give “new flexibility” to schools by allowing them to serve traditional pasta instead of whole-grain for another two years.
Murray, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the head of the Senate Budget Committee, said she was ready for the financial arguments but that she was banking on support for her hunger bill from Democrats and Republicans alike.
“Nutrition is important,” she said. “We know the success of these programs today. And we know that we have an obligation to address poverty and hunger for our children.”
According to Murray, only 14 percent of the children in the United States who receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year take advantage of a federal summer school food program. The program funds nonprofit groups that serve lunches.