Bills aim to expand free-lunch program in MinnesotaA bill in the state Legislature that aims to help Minnesota students whose families cannot afford to buy them lunch would expand the free-lunch program by 61,500 students.
By: Julie Siple , MPR.org/100.5 FM
A bill in the state Legislature that aims to help Minnesota students whose families cannot afford to buy them lunch would expand the free-lunch program by 61,500 students.
Supporters of the bill say it would ensure that low-income students have the nutrition they need to learn in school and are not refused a lunch when they cannot pay. But at a cost to the state of $4 million a year, the measure has sparked criticism that it relieves parents of responsibility.
Under a federal program, Minnesota provides free lunches to nearly 250,000 students a year.
The 61,500 students some legislators want to add currently qualify for lunch at a reduced price. For 40 cents a day, they receive a balanced meal, such as a turkey burger, sweet potatoes, fruit and vegetables. But advocates for low-income families say even that can be too much to pay.
“There is a risk that these kids don’t have the money for lunch,” said Jessica Webster, a staff attorney with the Legal Services Advocacy
Two bills to expand the free-lunch program have been filed in the state Senate. Similar measures have been introduced in the House.
“With all of the talk about education and education reform, and making sure that our children are prepared to go into society, there’s no better way than to make that sure kids get a good, quality lunch so they can learn,” said state Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, the chief author of one of the bills.
The bill probably will face some questions when it comes up in a Senate hearing. Among those who are skeptical of the proposal is state
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge.
“The concern with that is No. 1, you’re completely disengaging families that theoretically at least have a fairly substantial ability to pay something,” said Nienow, the ranking minority member on the Senate Education Finance Committee.
Under current federal guidelines, children from a family of four can qualify for reduced-price lunch if their family’s household income does not exceed $42,643 a year. For a family of seven, the limit is $64,621.
That may be tight, Nienow said, but most of those families probably can pitch in.
Senate committee leaders say the proposed legislation will get a hearing, but a date hasn’t been set.
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