Non-profit leaders push for ND legislature to pass school meal bills
FARGO, N.D. (KVRR) — Leaders from local nonprofits including the Great Plains Food Bank and YWCA are calling for the North Dakota legislature to pass two bills regarding school meals.
“Families are really struggling. Their dollars are not stretching as far and they’re having to choose between food and rent or food and heat. The decision they shouldn’t have to make is whether they can afford to feed their kids at school or at home. Kids should be fed no matter what. Last year, our charitable network served 47,000 kids and that is way too many,” said Melissa Sobolik, the CEO of the Great Plains Food Bank.
House bill 1491 would give free meals to all students at or below 200% of the federal poverty level enrolled in public schools.
House bill 1494 would remove the stigma of those already getting a free lunch.
That bill is about schools not identifying students using stickers, stamps or placing a child’s name on a list of students with meal debt.
Activists say the actions and awareness are a first step in the right direction, but believe school meals should be allowed for every student, regardless of their family’s income.
“We have so much food. We produce a lot of the world’s food and we have this issue with school lunch, school breakfast. I think that’s embarrassing. I think we should have universal school meals here in the state of North Dakota and that will make us more competitive with our neighbors in Minnesota,” says Jason Boynton, the co-founder of Lunch Aid North Dakota
More than 29,000 students receive a free lunch and nearly 8 thousand have reduced costs from federal programs.
Fargo school board member Robin Nelson says if house bill 1491 passes, 40,000 students will be eligible for free school meals.
That’s 34% of the state.
Republican Representative Jeff Hoverson of Minot is against the bill, saying many students already get free lunches and healthy snacks every morning and afternoon.
“It would for sure be something that would never be able to be reversed. It would only grow. I don’t know who would want to be the person ten years from now who would want to stand up and try to reverse giving free lunches.” Hoverson said.
Boynton says making sure the students are covered at school will help food banks across the state focus on other forms of food insecurity.
“If we can help our school kids, they all have to be in school, let’s feed them. We provide them with all of the other critical infrastructure. Let’s give them one of the most important tools to learn and that’s good nutrition. So, I think we keep the pressure up. That way, everything will be fine,” Boynton said.
Last month, the Minnesota House passed a bill to guarantee free meals to all students, regardless of income.
It now moves to the Senate where no date has been set for a vote.
State Senator Liz Boldon of Rochester says she hopes to have a floor vote next week.