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Minnesota House OKs food program bills

(The Center Square) – The Minnesota House approved two bills to fund food programs for students and food shelf programs.

House File 5, authored by Rep. Sydney Jordan, DFL- Minneapolis, passed on a vote of 70-58. The bill would create a state program for schools to provide up to two free meals per day to all students.

The bill aims to appropriate to the Minnesota Department of Education $174.8 million in fiscal year 2024 and $181.9 million in fiscal year 2025 for the free school meals program. The bill would appropriate $14.8 million in fiscal year 2024 and $15.4 million in fiscal year 2025 for free school breakfast.

About $400,000 would fund administrative costs in fiscal year 2023 for the free school meals program. The bill would also appropriate $202,000 annually to administer the program beginning in fiscal year 2025.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, welcomed the passage.

“It’s hard to learn when you’re hungry. DFLers are acting today to help make sure Minnesota’s children aren’t hungry at school, but that they are ready to learn,” Hortman said in a statement. “When kids come to school in the morning, all of them should be able to go to the cafeteria and get breakfast to start off the day, and at lunch, everyone should get a meal as well.”

This bill would replace the current state funding for school meals with a requirement that the state pay the difference between the federally determined average cost of a school meal and the actual federal reimbursement rate for that meal for all school meals served to students.

Nationally, students qualify for free meals if their family income is less than 130% of the federal poverty guidelines, and for reduced-price meals if family income is between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty guidelines.

Republicans in the minority said the bill would pay for school meals for kids from families who don’t need taxpayer assistance. 

Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea offered an unsuccessful amendment to raise the income threshold for free school meals instead of providing them to all students. It was defeated on a 59-70 party line vote.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees,” Bennett said in a floor speech. “We need to prioritize and we need to focus on the things that are important. The students who can’t afford lunch are important.”

The House also approved HF 213, authored by Rep. Heather Keeler, DFL- Moorhead, which would provide $5 million for food shelf programs.

In the Senate, both bills are in the committee process. If approved, Gov. Tim Walz would likely sign the bills into law. 

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