I have to believe that no Idahoan wants to let a child go hungry. Making sure our children are nourished requires special attention in summer. When school meals are unavailable, there is additional pressure on families earning modest wages and it’s harder to make groceries stretch. It is therefore confounding that Idaho opted out of a summer food program that would have fed 123,000 kids across the state with $15 million available for our families. The root cause of this failure is poor leadership. Under single-party rule, a complete lack of accountability — compounded by decades of underinvestment in our schools — ultimately failed our kids.
Our children’s access to food should have been a serious priority. It’s harder for kids to learn on an empty stomach and food insecurity impacts everything from a child’s mental and physical health to their future economic prosperity. That’s why it’s crucial to take advantage of every opportunity to nourish our kids.
This new federal program first launched in 2020, providing eligible families with the cost of breakfast and lunch that their children receive during the school year when school is out. These extra funds for food cost Idaho nothing but required coordination between the State Department of Education and the Department of Health and Welfare to determine eligibility and administer benefits. Over the intervening years and with a leadership change at the State Department of Education, elected Republican officials had the opportunity to act. They could have fought for an appropriation needed to implement the program, ensured schools could update the necessary data systems, and put a plan in place to implement the program. Instead, they did nothing. The deadline to participate in the 2023 summer passed earlier this month with no action.
While Republican state leaders dropped the ball in such a profound way, they have no sense of accountability to the kids and families who are impacted. The State Department of Education’s explanations that changing course would be “difficult” or “that’s the way it was done before” are not much better than Gov. Little refusing to comment on the mess at all. The uncomfortable truth is that elected Republicans calculated that they could deny Idaho families their due benefits without any consequences because the kids at risk of going hungry have no political power. And the Idaho Republican Party’s walled-off primary elections reward not what is right, but what is the most extreme.
Denying summer meals for Idaho children is an administrative failure and a moral outrage. One-party rule will continue to harm Idahoans and put our shared prosperity at risk — until we change it. This summer, our children will pay the price.
We can and must do better.
Lauren Necochea, Idaho Democratic Party Chair