By Justin Snow
Childhood hunger activists were out in force on Monday, opposing a recommendation to cut additional funding for a program that provides thousands of students with a free classroom breakfast in participating schools across the state.
Maryland Meals for Achievement (MMFA) has received $2.8 million annually since 2009, but because of tough economic times and an increase in childhood hunger among Maryland children, Gov. Martin O’Malley has allotted for a $560,000 increase in his budget for the 14-year-old program as part of his broader goal to eliminate childhood hunger by 2015. In its review of the governor’s budget, the Department of Legislative Services has recommended slashing that allotment in half to $280,000.
Several advocates and teachers encouraged the committee to reject the recommendation, stating the importance of a nutritional breakfast for success in school, and noting the program’s direct correlation with academic achievement. The proposed budget increase would serve 46 new schools and provide breakfast to an additional 20,000 school children.
Cathy Demeroto, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, which works to end hunger statewide, acknowledged the state’s tough economic times. She also lamented that legislators must support those who are hurting most.
“Maryland families are struggling,” said Demeroto. “We need to do more to get these kids to breakfast.”
According to testimony, more than 40% of Maryland teachers view hunger as a serious problem in their classrooms, with six in ten stating the problem has increased over the past year.
Executive Director of Advocates for Children and Youth Becky Wagner noted the increase in academic performance across the board for children who eat a nutritious breakfast.
“Maryland’s low-income children, I believe, have borne more than their burden and more than their fair share of poverty,” said Wagner.
As the state continues to face economic hardship, supporters were quick to point out the economic benefits on the federal level from such a program.
In voicing his opposition to the cut, Bernard Sadusky, the interim State Superintendent of Schools, noted that the budget increase would leverage $2.8 million in additional federal USDA funds for the state. Sadusky also described the proposed funding increase as “long overdue.”
Also testifying against the cut was celebrity chef Bryan Voltaggio, who was featured on Bravo’s Top Chef program in 2009 and currently owns Volt restaurant in Frederick.
Testimony against the recommended reduction was met with little opposition by the committee.