Donald Trump’s golf habit has already cost taxpayers at least $102 million in extra travel and security expenses, and next month will achieve a new milestone: a seven-figure presidential visit to another country so he can play at his own course.
U.S. taxpayers have spent $81 million for the president’s two dozen trips to Florida, according to a HuffPost analysis. They spent $17 million for his 15 trips to New Jersey, another $1 million so he could visit his resort in Los Angeles and at least $3 million for his two days in Scotland last summer ― $1.3 million of which went just for rental cars for the massive entourage that accompanies a president abroad.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the White House announced that Trump would meet with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Shannon, just 30 miles by air from Trump’s golf resort in Doonbeg. It will be the first time Trump will visit a foreign country — with the staggering footprint of personnel and equipment that entails — for the main purpose of playing golf, though an official purpose was layered on after the fact.
“It’s obviously an incredible waste of money,” said Robert Weissman, president of the group Public Citizen. He then quipped: “Of course, the more time he spends golfing, the less time he spends governing, the better.”
The $102 million total to date spent on Trump’s presidential golfing represents 255 times the annual presidential salary he volunteered not to take. It is more than three times the cost of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that Trump continually complains about. It would fund for six years the Special Olympics program that Trump’s proposed budget had originally cut to save money.
While Republicans and Trump himself frequently criticized former President Barack Obama for his golf outings, Trump has spent more than twice as many days on the links, to date, as Obama did at the same point in his first term. And because Trump has insisted on dozens of trips to New Jersey and Florida to play at his resorts there, taxpayers are spending more than three times as much as they did for golf by the same point in Obama’s term.
The White House did not respond to numerous queries regarding this story. North Carolina Republican congressman Mark Meadows, a close Trump ally, dismissed the $102 million figure as insignificant.
“There’s a lot more important things to worry about than the rounding errors that we sometimes have on these things,” he said Tuesday.
Just as troubling as the amount Trump has spent so far on golf trips is the fact that his visits have been to his own properties — for-profit businesses that put money in his own pocket and that Trump routinely praises during his visits.
During his trip to Scotland last year, for example, Trump wrote: “I have arrived in Scotland and will be at Trump Turnberry for two days of meetings, calls and hopefully, some golf – my primary form of exercise! The weather is beautiful, and this place is incredible!”
“His top priority with these trips is not the business of the American people, it’s the business of the Trump Organization,” said Jordan Libowitz of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “The American presidency has become another tool to advertise his golf properties.”
I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off.Candidate Donald Trump in 2016
The vast majority of Trump’s golf costs result from his insistence on playing at his Florida courses in West Palm Beach and Jupiter, where he has spent 61 days while staying at his resort in the nearby town of Palm Beach. A weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago averages $3.4 million, with most of that resulting from the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs each hour to fly both the modified Boeing 747 that serves as the primary Air Force One, as well as the C-17 cargo planes required to move all the support vehicles in Trump’s motorcade.
Determining the cost of Trump’s golf visits is not easy. The White House is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and Trump’s press office does not answer most questions about his golf visits — even refusing to confirm whether he is, in fact, playing golf when he is physically at his golf courses.
But a recent Government Accountability Office report regarding Trump’s four early 2017 visits to Mar-a-Lago has provided hard data and a methodology that HuffPost followed in its own analysis.
The HuffPost analysis took a conservative approach to determining costs. For example, it used a per-hour rate of $15,994 for Trump’s use of the smaller Air Force One that he takes to Bedminster, New Jersey, even though that figure accounts only for fuel and maintenance, not the additional factors that GAO used when it determined the $273,000-per-hour cost of operating the larger plane.
Any presidential outing requires coordination of multiple offices and agencies and incurs additional costs compared to staying in the White House. Even one of Trump’s day trips to his course across the Potomac River in northern Virginia — there have been 52 to date — requires fuel for all the motorcade vehicles and some personnel costs if overtime is necessary for Secret Service agents and others. (Those expenses, however, are minimal compared to flight costs, and HuffPost did not include them in its $102 million total.)
And the price increases exponentially the farther Trump travels.
Flying the Marine Corps helicopters — three of them are used each time ― from the White House to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, where Air Force One is based, costs $57,000 for the round trip, according to the GAO report. Flying the massive C-17 transports loaded with Trump’s 7-ton armored limousines and other specialized support vehicles costs $800,500 per Mar-a-Lago trip.
And for each of those trips, the Coast Guard winds up spending an extra $855,500 to patrol the Atlantic Ocean to the east of Mar-a-Lago and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west. That figure includes the expense of getting necessary ships, boats and crews to South Florida from stations as far away as Boston and Houston, the GAO reported.
When Trump travels overseas, the costs rise even higher, as yet more agencies become involved. Dozens of White House staff members may travel with Trump during a weekend to Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster, but that number swells to several hundred on an overseas trip. The administration avoids lengthy motorcades on foreign soil, so Marine helicopters and V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft must be pre-positioned. A backup Air Force One is sent along as the support plane.
According to a Scottish newspaper last summer, the U.S. State Department paid a local car rental agency $1.2 million for vehicles for all the staff who relocated from London, where Trump had met with Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Theresa May, to Scotland, where Trump wanted to play golf at his Turnberry resort before heading to Finland to meet Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Between that expense and the costs of moving equipment from London to Glasgow and then 55 miles southwest to Turnberry, those two golf days cost taxpayers at least $3 million beyond what they would have spent if Trump had simply stayed in London, according to HuffPost’s analysis.
President Donald Trump has spent a total of 61 days on his Florida courses, 58 at Bedminster in New Jersey, one at Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles and two at Trump Turnberry.
One of Trump’s favorite lines of attack against Obama was to point out his frequent golf outings during his presidency.
“I play golf to relax. My company is in great shape. Barack Obama plays golf to escape work while America goes down the drain,” Trump tweeted in December 2011.
“Can you believe that, with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter,” he wrote three years later.
As he began his own run for the White House, candidate Trump repeatedly promised that golf would never make it onto a President Trump schedule. “I love golf, but if I were in the White House, I don’t think I’d ever see Turnberry again. I don’t think I’d ever see Doral again,” he told a rally audience in February 2016, referring to his course near the Miami airport. “I don’t ever think I’d see anything. I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off.”
Trump reneged on that pledge within two weeks, when he took his first of 24 trips to date to Mar-a-Lago. He has, according to HuffPost’s analysis, spent a total of 61 days on his Florida courses, 58 at Bedminster in New Jersey, one at Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles and two at Trump Turnberry.
Wednesday is the 853rd day of his presidency, and Trump has spent 174 of them at one of his own golf courses. He spent one additional day golfing: Nov. 5, 2017, at the Kasumigaseki Country Club outside Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It is the only time thus far that he has played golf at a course he does not own.
That insistence of frequenting his own properties, in fact, has driven his total golf expenses disproportionately higher than Obama’s at the same point in his presidency.
By Obama’s 853rd day in office, he had spent 70 days at a golf course. But 48 of those golf days were at courses on military bases: Joint Base Andrews or Fort Belvoir, both in suburban Washington a short motorcade ride from the White House. All but two of the others were on family vacations to Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard.
And although Hawaii is four times as far from Washington, D.C., as Palm Beach, Obama only went there twice in his first 28 months. In that same time span, Trump has gone to Mar-a-Lago 24 times. While Obama made two trips to Martha’s Vineyard through May of 2011, Trump has already gone to Bedminster 15 times.
The result: Obama racked up out-of-town golf expenses of approximately $30 million compared to Trump’s $102 million.
And Trump’s tab will grow by several million dollars more if he follows through with a golf outing at his resort at Doonbeg, Ireland, before or after his coming trip to London and Normandy in early June. An Ireland stop means travel on Air Force One, C-17s to ferry vehicles and helicopters as well as hundreds of White House, Pentagon and State Department staff that make up the entourage of a foreign visit.
Cognizant of how a foreign visit solely for a golf vacation might look, the White House tried to arrange some type of official meeting with Irish leaders for weeks after it began planning the Doonbeg trip.
But Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s government, cognizant of Trump’s deep unpopularity in Ireland, was reluctant to agree to the White House request that Varadkar travel to Trump’s private resort on the opposite side of the country from Dublin, said an Irish government source who spoke on condition of anonymity. Tuesday’s announcement of a meeting in Shannon, possibly at Shannon airport — where Air Force One will land — appears to be the compromise location.
“We welcome the announcement of the visit by the U.S. president,” the Irish Embassy said in a statement Tuesday. “Detailed arrangements around the visit will be made public in due course.”
Just as troubling as the amount Trump has spent so far on golf trips is the fact that his visits have been to his own properties — for-profit businesses that put money in his own pocket.
The White House press staff, meanwhile, did not respond to repeated queries about various aspects of this report over a period of weeks.
It is the same strategy that Trump has used throughout his two and a half years in office when it comes to his golfing. While the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama White Houses usually released the names of the president’s golf partners after any given outing, the Trump White House has almost always refused to confirm that Trump even golfed — including on occasions when he has shown up wearing a golf shirt, trousers and ball cap. (The only exceptions have been when Trump has played with a famous person or a member of Congress.)
On March 3, 2018, HuffPost filed a White House pool report from Mar-a-Lago stating: “Pool did ask the White House what the president was doing at his golf course and with whom he was doing it but received no reply.”
This past Sunday, four hours after arriving at Trump’s golf course in Sterling, Virginia, the Washington Blade reporter serving as pool wrote: “No word from the White House on POTUS’ golf partners, nor even confirmation POTUS was, in fact, golfing.”
On some golf days, Trump or his White House have claimed — dubiously — that he is involved in “meetings,” when, in fact, social media posts later show he had been out on the course.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Republican supporters who, like Trump, spent years attacking Obama for his golf outings have suddenly gone silent.
During Obama’s second term, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso asked the GAO to look at a trip he took that combined a speech in Illinois with a golf weekend in Palm Beach. When the GAO released a report in 2016, Barrasso said in a statement: “President Obama had such little disregard for the taxpayer that he spent millions of dollars to play golf with Tiger Woods. This arrogance is par for the course for the Obama administration.”
Asked about Trump’s far higher golf spending, Barrasso told HuffPost Tuesday: “I haven’t followed that at all.”
Michael Steel, once a top aide to former Republican House Speaker John Boehner, acknowledged that Republicans’ views on presidential golf may not be consistent in recent years. “There’s no question that people’s concerns and criticisms often come with a partisan lens,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t think anyone prefers the president be watching television and tweeting than playing golf … I think it’s healthy for people to relax.”
More troubling to watchdog groups than Trump’s hypocrisy, though, is the self-dealing that occurs whenever Trump travels to his own resorts. On top of the publicity value of a presidential visit, each trip also results in many thousands of taxpayer dollars flowing to Trump resorts for hotel rooms, golf carts and food and drink for Secret Service agents.
Because Trump continues to profit from these businesses — despite a promise he made during the campaign that he would not — a portion of that taxpayer money ends up in Trump’s own pocket. The GAO report found that Mar-a-Lago received approximately $60,000 in just the four visits it studied.
“As Trump promotes his golf courses through taxpayer-financed visits to his clubs, it’s an extra benefit for him that his properties are able to scoop up some taxpayer money directly,” said Public Citizen’s Weissman.
“It’s clear that to Donald Trump, the presidency is just another way to benefit his businesses,” CREW’s Libowitz added. “Because of his refusal to divest from his business empire, Americans must always ask whether his decisions are made primarily with his bank account in mind.”
Igor Bobic and Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.
NowThis Politics posted an episode of We Can Solve This.
May 22, 2019
The winds of change are blowing, and they’re bringing clean energy, prosperity, and good jobs to the U.S. (via The Years Project)
Democratic Coalition Against Trump
“Far too many have suffered the consequences of global warming in recent months, and the political response has so far been woefully inadequate—and the denial is just evil.” — Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario
It will take our planet 3 million years to recover.
📕 Read more: https://wef.ch/2RTLCcU
It will take our planet 3 million years to recover. 📕 Read more: https://wef.ch/2RTLCcU
Posted by World Economic Forum on Monday, March 25, 2019
Can We Stop Kids From Being Shamed Over School Lunch Debt?
School lunches carry a small price tag, but for low-income families the cost can add up—and despite efforts to stop lunch shaming, some schools punish children who can’t pay.
By Nadra Nittle, Food Justice, School Food May 21, 2019
These are all examples of lunch shaming, a practice that may vary depending on the context, but which has persisted for years. Outcry about the issue has grown louder since the Great Recession, when a number of school districts found themselves in a financial crunch and began using punitive measures to settle meal debt.
“States have described a point in which school lunch programs needed to start standing independently as a ‘business unit,’” said Jessica Webster, staff attorney of the Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid Legal Services Advocacy Project. “They couldn’t run in the red anymore because districts could no longer cover the debt. So, we saw a surge in a la carte foods and competitive foods like pop, candy, and Taco Bell to cover those debts. But when parents started asking for bans on these competitive, unhealthy foods, school lunch programs could no longer cover the shortfalls.”
The result has been lunch programs across the country making headlines with a variety of lunch shaming practices, which in turn has led to a movement largely focused on fundraising and legislation as remedies. While many Americans remain unaware of this problem, when stories of lunch shaming hit the headlines or go viral, people have begun to spring into action.
For example, when Warwick Schools in Rhode Island announced earlier this month that children with delinquent lunch tabs would be served cold sun-butter and jelly sandwiches (with veggies, fruit, and milk) instead of hot menu items, it sparked a fierce backlash. In just one week, the public raised the $77,000 needed to wipe out the lunch debt Warwick had accrued. To date, two GoFundMe campaigns and Chobani Yogurt CEO Hamdi Ulukaya have raised more than $150,000 to clear Warwick’s student lunch debt and then some, but this development by no means provides a meaningful solution to the student lunch debt that’s ballooning across the country.
Some states are seeing school lunch debt soar into the millions of dollars, but the exact amount of lunch debt schools nationwide have accumulated collectively isn’t known because the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t collect or provide that data. As an issue that disproportionately involves marginalized families—those in poverty, living paycheck to paycheck, or even undocumented immigrants afraid to participate in the federal free lunch program—lunch debt magnifies the widespread economic and structural inequities that have historically existed in the U.S. It also has a very real effect on children—whether causing them go hungry (since school meals are the only meals some children eat in a day), hurting their self-esteem, or both.
The acts of shaming that accompany lunch debt may be hard for children to shake, according to Bettina Elias Siegel, a Civil Eats contributor and author of the forthcoming book, “Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World.”
“Children are so aware of differences between kids—whether it’s socioeconomic, popularity, or whatever—that when you engage in any practice expressly meant to set them apart, kids feel that keenly,” Siegel said. “The stigma is real; it’s a really unfortunate tactic.”
She added that lunch shaming also exacerbates existing socioeconomic differences in school cafeterias in which more privileged students can buy a la carte items while their less privileged peers eat standard lunches.
Various states and school districts have taken measures in recent years to do away with lunch shaming policies that saw youth with past-due lunch accounts relegated to eating cold snacks or nothing at all. In some cases, students performed cafeteria chores to work off their debts or had to wear stickers or hand stamps that called out their past-due account status. As state legislation and other protections have been put into place to avoid shaming students, lunch debt continues to grow, and schools may still take punitive measures against families to resolve these bills—from sending debt collectors after them to threatening to stop students from graduating.
Student lunch debt carries consequences that may extend well beyond a child’s K-12 education. To adequately address this issue, student advocacy and anti-poverty groups say schools must improve how they communicate with parents, families need to be better educated about children’s options for lunch, and Congress may need to pass federal legislation. Donations to erase lunch debt, however, remain a quick fix to a complex and ongoing problem.
“I wish we could channel all that fundraising into a broader effort to advocate at the national level for [universal] free lunch.” Siegel said. “We supply books for children. We provide buses to get them to school. By the same token, we should be supplying kids a free lunch.”
Lunch Debt Is Growing, But Donations Aren’t a Solution
In 2017, Denver Public Schools made a widely applauded announcement: It would no longer deny hot meals to students with negative meal balances. But its goal to make sure that none of the 92,000 children in the district was left eating a cheese sandwich or graham crackers and milk—its previous policy for students with unpaid lunch bills—faced an unexpected drawback. School lunch debt in Denver shot up from $13,000 during the 2016-17 school year to $356,000 the next.
After the passage of a 2017 anti-lunch shaming bill that requires cafeteria staff to feed all students, Oregon schools have experienced a similarly exponential growth in lunch debt. The law also prevents school workers from asking children to pay for food. By the end of 2018, more than three dozen districts in the state had racked up $1.3 million in unpaid balances.
Rising lunch debt isn’t unique to Oregon or Denver, however. According to the School Nutrition Association, a nonprofit that represents student meal providers, school lunch debt is widespread across the country. Its 2018 School Nutrition Operations Report found that 75.3 percent of school districts had unpaid meal debt at the end of the 2016-17 school year, up 4 percentage points from four years earlier.
The rise has occurred during a period in which states including New York, Iowa, New Mexico, California, Minnesota and Texas have enacted legislation to crack down on lunch shaming, and do-gooders have collected money to help school districts clear student lunch debt. A fundraising campaign and a private donation wiped out Denver Public Schools’ $13,000 lunch debt from the 2016-17 school year. More recently, community members in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan rallied to cover student’s unpaid lunch bills during the 2018 holiday season.
And just in time for 2019’s commencement ceremonies, the Philando Castile Relief Foundation made an $8,000 donation to erase the lunch debt of students at Robbinsdale Cooper High School in suburban Minneapolis. Castile, a Black man whose 2016 killing by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, sparked nationwide protests, was a cafeteria supervisor at a Minnesota Montessori school. He routinely paid for lunch for students with overdrawn meal accounts, and the foundation named after him continues that legacy.
Students are also on a mission to solve the problem of lunch debt in schools. Last December, an Orlando, Florida, fifth-grader donated $100 of his earnings to pay for unpaid lunch bills at his elementary school. In 2017, Palm Beach County high school student Christian Cordon-Cano started the nonprofit School Lunch Fairy to cover student meals all over the country. So far, he has raised more than $72,000 for that purpose. He told Civil Eats that he got the idea for his nonprofit after listening to a radio broadcast about lunch debt.
“I went to a private Christian school and lunch shaming had never crossed my mind,” said Cordon-Cano, now a college freshman. “I was so shocked that I thought I had to do something about lunch sharing. Every kid deserves a good lunch, so to me, to embarrass them, it’s very sad.”
The School Lunch Fairy website takes donations from members of the public who want to help schools get rid of lunch debt. But Cordon-Cano said that some schools have turned down his organization’s efforts to clear their meal debt.
“Some districts didn’t want help, but they would never give reasons,” he said. “I think the amount of debt they were in embarrassed a lot of them.”
Warwick Schools in Rhode Island reportedly turned down a $4,000 donation from a local restaurant owner because the donation would only cover a fraction of the total amount of lunch bills due. In a statement, the district said it was grateful for the financial support but needed to figure out a way to determine which students’ bills to pay. “We are working with our attorneys to ensure that we accept donations in compliance with the law and that the donations are applied in an equitable manner.”
In 2017, Texas State Rep. Helen Giddings, the lawmaker behind anti-lunch shaming legislation that requires schools to grant students a grace period before giving them a meal alternative and to contact parents when a child’s meal account is depleted, partnered with Austin nonprofit Feeding Texas, a state network of food banks, to raise more than $216,000 to cover unpaid lunch bills.
“It’s obviously just a stopgap, a band-aid on a bigger problem. Kids not having food to eat—that’s not a problem that can be solved locally with a GoFundMe campaign,” said Feeding Texas CEO Celia Cole. “We raised the money to be able to make grants to school districts, to incentivize them to make better policies, but it wasn’t a permanent solution, and we weren’t in a position to fundraise year after year.”
Feeding Texas is working with the state’s Department of Agriculture to survey districts about why they’ve accumulated student lunch debt in hopes of finding remedies, especially making free lunch accessible to the families who qualify for it.
“The process of connecting students to meals isn’t perfect,” Cole said. “We’re a very big and very diverse state, so there isn’t an immediate policy fix. We’re not discouraging people from fundraising, and we see the outpouring when people hear about student lunch debt, but it’s not a long-term fix.”
Improving Communication Between Schools and Families
Lunch debt can be reduced, in part, by making sure that parents know the options available to them. At least some of the lunch debt that schools incur stems from families who qualify for free and reduced lunch, which is paid for by the federal government, but don’t sign up for the program. They may find the paperwork too confusing, only register one of their children, or forget to reapply annually, school nutrition advocates say. Language barriers may also get in the way, and undocumented families may be too fearful to fill out any paperwork at all.
Students from households where the total income falls below $32,630 annually for a family of four—qualify for free lunch. (A family of four earning under $46,435 is eligible for a reduced-price meal.) However, when families who do qualify for free and reduced lunch meals finally sign up for the federal program, any lunch debt they accrued beforehand doesn’t disappear.
“The really unfortunate thing about all of this is that the federal government prohibits schools to use federal funds for any unpaid meal debt,” explained Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association. “The free meal program relies solely on federal reimbursement. There is no funding for students who aren’t enrolled [but eligible to be] in the free-and-reduced lunch program.”
That’s why it’s imperative that school districts don’t wait until a family is significantly behind on their payments to take action. Signing up parents early and annually prevents lunch debt from ballooning. In some cases, families who qualify for the reduced portion of the program still struggle. This has led some children’s advocates to recommend doing away with the reduced category altogether.
“At the reduced price, families might pay 40 cents for lunch,” said Crystal FitzSimons, director of school and out-of-school time programs for the Food Research & Action Center. The average school lunch costs about $3.20. “That may not seem like a lot of money to cover, but it can add up.”
Families who qualify for reduced meals but not free ones aren’t as likely to participate in the federal meal program at all, FitzSimons said. Offering these families free meals could lower schools’ lunch debt burden.
Sometimes schools don’t take advantage of the options available to them, such as the federal community eligibility provision. This allows schools that serve mostly low-income youth to provide free meals to each student without the need for families to provide paperwork. During the 2016-2017 school year, 9.7 million students ate free school meals through the provision, but only about 55 percent of schools that qualified to receive it participated. The nation’s biggest city, New York, stands out for offering free meals to all students.
“Advocating for universal free meals in high-poverty areas—that’s the solution,” said Pratt-Heavner of school lunch debt. “If the federal government realizes it, along with the school districts, they should be able to make sure kids get these meals.”
Anti-Lunch Shaming Laws Don’t End Punitive Practices
Students who live in states that have passed anti-lunch shaming bills may no longer worry about having their meals thrown out in front of them or other frowned-upon practices, but their families are still subject to bill collectors. Starting in January of this year, Cranston Schools in Rhode Island turned to a debt collection agency to recover the money owed from unpaid lunch bills.
Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law & Poverty in California, said schools routinely send bill collectors after families, but she questions whether student privacy laws are being broken in the process.
“There’s a real problem with a school that gives a third party information about a child and the child’s debt,” she said. “The information would have to include the name of the child and the action that caused the debt—and would also have to include the address of the person responsible for the child.”
In January, California Assembly Bill 1974 took effect; the legislation enacts the Public School Fair Debt Collection Act and prevents unemancipated minors from being held accountable for school debt, lunch-related or otherwise. It also prevents schools from withholding transcripts, diplomas, or similar items from students because of debts owed. While debt collectors would still be able to pursue parents to recover unpaid lunch bills; the act prohibits debt collectors who contract with schools from reporting the debt to credit reporting bureaus or selling the debt to a different agency.
Pending legislation in California, SB 265, seeks to amend the Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act of 2017 so students with unpaid meal debt aren’t shamed, treated differently, or served a meal that differs from what their peers eat.
School districts withholding honors from students with lunch debt—from awards to the chance to take part in graduation ceremonies—made headlines earlier this month when press coverage of the Castile Foundation’s $8,000 donation to Robbinsdale Cooper High stated that seniors needed their lunch debt cleared to graduate. Robbinsdale Area Schools Superintendent Carlton Jenkins was quoted as saying, “For those students to know that they can graduate now without having a bill, I can’t tell you how big it is.”
But a spokeswoman for the school district told Civil Eats that students with lunch debt have never been prevented from graduating, and the press release about the Castile Relief Foundation donation on the district website now includes a note stating that it is a violation of Minnesota law to prevent a student from graduating, receiving a diploma, or attending class because of lunch debt.
The news stories about graduation and student lunch debt prompted legal aid attorney Jessica Webster to write a letter to the state education department commissioner stating how often she hears about school districts threatening to prevent students from graduating despite a 2014 state law that prevents schools from “demeaning” or “stigmatizing” youth because of an unpaid bill.
“For families, it’s not that clear,” Webster said of the law. “If you’re at risk of not graduating, it is very scary to families. Putting this kind of pressure on families is unconscionable to us.”
The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Might Help
This year Congress will reauthorize the child nutrition programs, a process that includes modifications to the National School Lunch Program. Child nutrition hasn’t been reauthorized since 2010, when student lunch debt didn’t generate nearly as many news headlines and crowdfunding campaigns as it does today. During this time, Webster says schools have grown emboldened about the ways they lunch-shamed kids. She recalled students with low balances being told to get an alternative lunch from the back of the kitchen, essentially doing a “walk of shame” in front of their classmates. They would often go home crying to their parents about the lack of funds in their accounts, she said.
In 2017, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued guidance about how schools can address lunch debt in a way that doesn’t shame students and keep parents out of the loop. The guidance did not prohibit schools from giving students cold snacks or hand stamps; it merely urged schools to find a way to reach out to parents behind on their children’s lunch bills.
While the guidance was not revolutionary, it did have an impact, according to Webster. “We were all happy to see that guidance,” she said. “A lot of states did look through that guidance, and we’ve seen fewer of these [lunch-shaming] practices since that advisory came out, but congressional action would be far more effective.”
During the child nutrition reauthorization process, Congress has the opportunity to change some of the regulations that have increased student lunch debt. It could alter how schools are reimbursed for student meals, which districts qualify for the community eligibility provision, and the criteria families must meet to receive a free lunch.
A hearing about the reauthorization took place in March, and Congress is expected to take action on child nutrition in the coming months.
Feeding Texas’ Celia Cole looks forward to the reauthorization process.
“The long-term fix to lunch shaming is making sure the meals are accessible and adequately funded,” she said. “The only fix is at the federal level.”
Trump’s tariffs are equivalent to one of the largest tax increases in decades
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Business Leaders For Medicare for All
May 15, 2019
Most Americans already know Medicare for All is the solution to our healthcare crisis.
MSNBC – Live With Katy Tur
Coal smoke and steam vapor pour out of the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant overlooking the Ohio River at dawn in Shippingport, Pennsylvania.Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images file
In the latest bit of bad news for a planet beset by climate change, the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has climbed to a level last seen more than 3 million years ago — before humans even appeared on the rocky ball we call home.
On Saturday, sensors at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii indicated that concentrations of the greenhouse gas — a byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels — had reached 415 parts per million (ppm), meaning that for every 1 million molecules of gas in the atmosphere, 415 were of carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide traps heat from the sun, and higher levels are associated with higher global temperatures and other effects of climate change, such as rising seas and unusual weather patterns.
The level of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen an average of 2.5 ppm per year over the past decade, reaching 400 ppm in 2013 — and the level appears likely to go higher from here.
“We’re racing toward a state very different from the kind humans evolved in and that civilization developed in,” said Ralph Keeling, a geochemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.
The last time levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide were this high came during the Pliocene Epoch, which extended from about 5.3 million to 2.6 million years ago. During that period, average sea levels were about 50 feet higher than they are today and forests grew as far north as the Arctic, said Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford University. “Earth was a very different place,” he said. “You would hardly recognize the land surface, and my gosh, we don’t want to go there.”
But there is evidence to suggest the planet is headed in that direction. If the current trajectory continues, levels of CO2 could hit 500 ppm within 30 years, a number that could mean an increase in global temperatures of at least 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
“At the present pace, we could reach that well within a lot of people’s lifetimes,” Keeling said of the grim milestone ahead.
Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are commonly represented on a graph known as the Keeling Curve, named for Keeling’s father, Charles David Keeling, who began taking daily measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide in 1958 from atop the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The curve shows a steep climb, owing to human-caused climate change.
As the planet inches toward 500 ppm, scientists are sounding the alarm over the potential for catastrophic changes to our environment. “None of these specific numbers are really thresholds in the sense that anything particular happens when we cross them,” Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, told NBC News MACH in an email. “But as we go through them, we are putting our foot on the accelerator of climate change, and impacts and damage will continue to rise.”
But it’s hard to say exactly what these changes will bring, or when. Some things, like the loss of vegetation and sea-ice coverage, will grow increasingly visible in the short term. Other things, like the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, occur more slowly. “But these impacts are going to persist for a very long time,” said Dana Royer, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. “Once that happens, we can’t really reverse it.”
Even if moving to renewable energy and other measures help stanch the steady flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, our descendants will likely be saddled with the negative consequences of our artificially elevated levels of CO2.
“We’re not going to see the full consequences of 415 parts per million of carbon dioxide today,” Jackson said. “It’ll take a thousand years of people — 30 generations of people — to pay the price of what we’re doing today.”