Probitas foundation's School Meal Support Project in Catalonia, Murcia and Madrid
In the current context of one in three children under 16 years living below the poverty line, the Probitas Foundation, under the "Child Nutrition Support Program" (RAI), is supporting more than 15,000 children In Catalonia, Murcia and Madrid with a total investment of over 2.5 million euros.
Given the situation of social vulnerability in which many children live in Spain, the Probitas Foundation starts in 2012 its RAI program with the objective of promoting a comprehensive support to the health of minors at risk of social exclusion with nutritional, socio-educational, psychosocial and health resources. One of the most important projects of the RAI Program is the RAI-school meal support, which aims to reduce the risk of child malnutrition through ensuring the feeding of children between 3 and 12 years old enrolled in primary and secondary education, mainly public high complexity schools. In this way, it seeks to provide a healthy meal a day for these minors at risk, to educate the children and their families in healthy habits, to reduce the rate of school absenteeism and the early school dropout.
Current situation of school meal support in Spain:
As a consequence of the economic crisis, there has been a substantial increase in the demand for aid, both by families already living in a social precarious situation and by the emergence of new situations in families that until now they didn't need any support to feed their children. Although the grants have increased in number of beneficiaries during the last years, they still cannot cover an important number of pupils at risk of poverty in Spain.
The Autonomous Communities of Catalonia, Valencia, Madrid and Rioja, offer grants that subsidize in whole or in part the school canteen service, and which depend directly on the aid policies promoted by the Administration. In other communities such as Andalusia, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Castilla la Mancha, Extremadura, Galicia, Murcia, Balearic Islands or Navarra, is compulsary for the administrationto give meal grants for students who meet social and personal requirements. Lastly, the Canary Islands do not grant individual scholarships, but rather only provide them to certain educational centers, while the Basque Country does not provide for any specific regulation on school meal aid, but is recognized in the scholarship scheme for non-university students.
The legislation for school meal aids is frequently a regulation so severe that the families in need of this aid don´t have a real access to receive it using the common criteria based specifically on family income. This situation causes that the only granted families are those with unemployed or inactive members, leaving behind those families that even having a job, they have serious economic difficulties and they dedicate a high percentage of their income to afford for their children school meal. Another difficulty faced by these families is the scaleestablished for the granting of aid, which only considers the amount of income of the previous year, which means that families with a sudden situation of poverty or with precarious employment situation can´t access to this grants even if they are living in a situation of great need and vulnerability.
Particular situation of the school meal support in Catalonia:
In Catalonia, the change of criteria for the granting of school meal support grants for this course, has brought out 16,000 new applications for scholarships for children who, at the beginning of the last year, were left behind without any aid and that in this course 2016-2017, due to the increase in the poverty threshold approved by Parliament last March, will benefit from them.
According to the data of last October, the Department of Education has resolved a total of 84,049 favorable files of requests for scholarship meal support grants, with a total of 17,898 scholarships (21%) covering 100% of the cost of the school menu. The complete scholarship has increased by 1,300 users over the past year. The rest of the grants awarded cover only 50% of the grant, with a total of 66,151 grants, an increase of 15,000 beneficiaries comparing with last year. Even so, 13,000 applications remain unresolved by county councils, 2,000 more than in 2015. The Department of Education is aware that new applications may be received throughout the course, so an open budget will be maintained for situations that arise for families in situations of vulnerability (1).
Despite the new selection criteria in granting meal scholarship, and the increase of beneficiaries for this course, the requirements to be beneficiary of this type of aid do not correspond to the real needs of children who are at risk social exclusion;for example, to become eligible, the economic threshold for a family of two adults with two kids cannot be over 20,300 €.