The bill proposes that there should be no income criteria for the free meals at school and everyone should have access to food.
Food and nutrition are basic human rights of everyone. It is crucial for the developing minds and bodies of children. However, children often don't have equal and proper access to nutrition and have to go through the entire school day without it. Hence, providing free meals to school-going children will not only give them access to nutrition but also attract more kids to enroll in schools. In a step forward towards achieving that, a law guaranteeing free lunch and breakfast for all Minnesota children, irrespective of the financial limits imposed by a federal program, received its approval from the Minnesota House on Thursday. Many advocates have claimed that this action will decrease child hunger and guarantee that no child is left behind, as per CBS News.
The Minnesota House passed a bill last night to guarantee breakfast and lunch for all students in the state, regardless of family income.— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) February 10, 2023
Gov. Tim Walz indicated he would sign the legislation, and a parallel bill is currently moving through the State Senate.
Rep. Sydney Jordan said, "We as a state fall short of providing equal opportunities for all students without exception and in a state with an agricultural tradition as rich as ours, it is particularly unacceptable that any child go hungry." The federal government pays for free or reduced-price meals, although there are some income requirements. The state would pick up the expense for the gap in coverage for everyone else under this plan, which is anticipated to be $388 million in the next two-year budget.
Some schools already provide universal meals because they qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision, which pays the cost for everyone when more than 62% of children qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Jordan told reporters before the floor vote that this ensures the proposal "maximizes federal funding." A separate bill voted on Thursday night would offer $5 million in emergency funding to food banks to help them meet unprecedented demand.
Today, the Minnesota House will pass legislation to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students regardless of background. House File 5 will keep kids’ stomachs full, help students achieve in the classroom, and save families hundreds of dollars each year. #mnleg pic.twitter.com/oROfzMKAlw— Minnesota House DFL Majority (@mnhouseDFL) February 9, 2023
Jordan said, "We've never seen people visiting food shelves like they are now. People can't afford to buy their own food. And the only recommendation that national groups are giving after the loss of the emergency status [providing a boost to SNAP benefits] in March is for the people to go visit a food shelf and if there is no food at the food shelf, that's a crisis." Republicans have warned that the cost of universal school meals is high and that it would have an impact on the state budget in future years if there is a deficit rather than a surplus. Earlier committees reviewing the plan attempted to change the measure to broaden who qualifies for free meals while maintaining income constraints.
Representative Peggy Bennet, R-Albert Lea, said, "We want children whose families cannot afford to feed them to have lunch or breakfast. The issue is the solution we're providing is shotgun technique instead of a surgical approach."
🧵 There are a LOT of people upset that the #mnleg just passed free breakfast/lunch for all Minnesota students. It'll cost taxpayers $60 extra per year.— Mark J. Westpfahl (@MarkJWestpfahl) February 11, 2023
To put that into perspective, I paid $58.58 (+ tip) at Buffalo Wild Wings for 3 people yesterday.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California, Maine and Colorado have taken some comparable efforts to provide universal school meals. Schools must be enrolled in the national meals program to be eligible for universal meals. The meals supplied will not include à la carte items such as cookies or potato chips. Jordan said, "This isn't a Gatorade-for-all bill. This is a meals-for-all bill."
Initially, there was considerable fear that the universal meals idea might jeopardize other state resources on which schools relied. Currently, the number of kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch determines additional state cash, known as compensatory assistance, that districts get to support students in need. That might amount to $550 million for schools.