Why Does Attendance at Some CPS Schools Go Up At the End of Every Month?

Recently the public schools in Chicago were closed because of a cold spell. My wife works for CPS (Chicago Public Schools) so she had a few days off, but not so for all CPS workers. The cafeteria staff have to show up since so many of the children depend on the breakfast and lunch served at school for their meals - if you can call it that. As I asked more about this she told me that at one school (she travels to multiple schools because she's a speech pathologist) the principal has noticed and started tracking data on a surge in attendance that occurs on the last week of every month. Odd, why would that be?

Ostensibly, the families of her students are running out of food at the end of every month. If their children don't come to school they don't have enough to eat. In 2009 SNAP benefits, more commonly know as food stamps, were temporarily increased by about 13% as part of the ARRA (American Recovery Reinvestment Act). Those benefits expired at the end of 2013. Food is such an issue for many of these families that most of the kids aren't allowed to have play dates because the host family can't afford to feed a visiting child.

I don't want to make this too political - if you can call feeding people political - but what the hell? We produce more food per capita than any other country on the planet. What's the point of everything else we do if people's basic needs aren't met? There's a plethora of studies linking food insecurity to poor school performance, increased crime, decreased health, etc. This is literally step one of preventing citizens from falling through the cracks, and instead of stepping up our efforts we're cutting benefits.

  • The average gross income (pre-tax money) for a family on food stamps is $731 per month (how do people, let alone families, survive on that?).
  • About 3/4 of households on food stamps have children in them.
  • Food stamps cost about $29 billion in 2005. That cost increased to over $76 billion (2.5% of the federal budget) in 2013 due to the Great Recession.
  • 48 million Americans, about 1 in 6, are on food stamps.
  • The average benefit is about $133 per month per person or $1.40 per person per meal.
  • Food stamps benefits have been cut repeatedly since 2013
  • As measured by economic multiplier (the ability of spending money to generate more economic activity), food stamps are the most effective of any social program. $1 spent on food stamps generates about $1.80 worth of economic activity.