My interest in the barriers associated with food access began in high school and only grew during college. During high school, I helped translate between Korean and Spanish for my local church’s soup kitchen in downtown San Jose. When I got to college, I wanted to better understand why access to quality food in urban communities mirrors socioeconomic status so powerfully.
So, I enrolled in Politics of Food, an academically based community service course focusing on analyzing the ideologies, institutions, and social movements that shape the intersection of food and politics in the United States. Through this course, I partnered with the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger to conduct an independent study while also providing direct service to clients applying for public benefit programs (read: answering calls on the Food Stamp Hotline).
Under the guidance of Professor Mary Summers, I researched the impact of the most recent child nutrition reauthorization bill—the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010—on federal school meal participation rates nationwide and in the School District of Philadelphia. (The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the legislative centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.)
In this paper, I write about the impact that “direct certification” (a process through which school districts and state education agencies share data with the state government’s database of public benefit program recipients) has had on low-income schoolchildren. Children who are part of households that receive the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are automatically certified to receive free school meals without another application process. In other words, these children no longer need to fill out a redundant and unnecessary application to establish economic need for free school meals. A huge win for children around the nation!