September 24, 2014

Advocacy groups push for school lunch bill

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Advocacy groups are asking legislators to support bills in both the Senate and House that would provide free school lunch to all low income students.

Hunger Free Vermont, VT Food Education Every Day and the School Nutrition Association of Vermont recently hosted School Nutrition Action Day at the State House.

“All over Vermont, school cafeteria workers report that students are going without lunch because they don’t have the funds to pay for lunch and there is no food at home,” said Dorigen Keeney, program director for Hunger Free Vermont. “Many of these students live in households that make too much money to qualify for free school meals, but not enough to meet basic needs.”

Sen. Sally Fox and Rep. Johannah Donovan are introducing bills that would use state funds to pay the student’s portion of reduced price lunch—40¢ per lunch—to ensure that the more than 6,000 students who fall into this reduced price category have access to lunch.

The proposals are endorsed by educational and school food organizations.

“We cannot afford the current system that puts low income students in the position of going hungry or having to sneak food or get money from teachers,” Kathy Alexander, former president of VT School Nutrition Association and food service director for Addison Northeast Supervisory Union, said in a statement.

“We should be certain that our contribution to the plate is just healthy food, period. Not shame, worry, fear, or, God forbid, hunger.”

The proposal outlined in these bills S.26 and H.60 is estimated to cost $320,000 per year and would leverage an additional $390,000 per year in federal funds, as more school meals would be served. School meal programs are currently struggling financially as the federal reimbursement has not kept up with the cost of providing meals, especially this last year with the higher nutritional standards.

“These funds will not only feed hungry students but will support the financial health of the school meal programs,” said Marissa Parisi, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont. “We encourage the Legislature to support this proposal that supports students, working families, and communities.”

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