Tulsa Public Schools and Hunger Free Oklahoma are trying out a program to help needy families get money for food.
Through the SNAP In Schools program, Hunger Free Oklahoma is teaching employees at nine schools already in contact with families where the kids receive free or reduced-price lunch to identify the ones not signed up for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
"Those income requirements are the same. So, they can do targeted outreach to those families to see if they’re eligible and interested in the benefit," said Hunger Free Oklahoma Executive Director Chris Bernard.
Four out of five TPS students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Only two-thirds of Tulsa residents eligible for SNAP benefits access them.
"We do so much during the school day and during out-of-school time to make sure we have programs that our students can access. And in addition to that, we know that we want to do as much as we can to make sure that our students’ families have access to nutritious meals," said TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist.
Increasing SNAP participation can also bring in additional federal funding for low-income schools.
Besides families not knowing about or being embarrassed by SNAP eligibility, Bernard said immigrant families can be wary about signing up with a proposed federal rule to consider the use of public benefits in the citizenship process, even if they go to a citizen child.
"To hold that against a parent who’s coming here, supporting their family and something that their child’s entitled to if they need that support would … it would damage immigrant communities’ abilities to support their families and to thrive," Bernard said.
Bernard hopes to have the SNAP In Schools program at 31 Tulsa Public schools in the fall. The program is the result of a partnership between TPS, Hunger Free Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and the State Department of Education.