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Committee hears proposal that aims to reduce childhood hunger

In a state with a rich agricultural tradition, it can be surprising that an estimated one in six kids experiences hunger. 

Sponsored by Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL-Mpls), HF1985, as amended, would enroll more schools in the federal Community Eligibility Provision program, which provides no-cost meals to all students in high-poverty neighborhoods.

The bill was held over Thursday by the House Education Finance Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF1902, awaits action by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Zach Duckworth (R-Lakeville) is the sponsor.

The federal government provides more than $300 million per year to Minnesota’s school lunch programs, primarily based on the counts of free and reduced-price eligible students at each school. The state contributes an additional $30 million annually, and remaining school nutrition costs are covered by parent fees.  

About a decade ago, the federal government created the Community Eligibility Provision program, which allows high poverty school sites to serve free meals to all the students attending that school site, regardless of the family income status of each student.

Schools are not obligated to participate in program, and as result, there are many that are eligible but not taking advantage of it, Jordan said.

“The result is ultimately that children are going hungry in school,” she said. “There are a lot of students who are falling through the cracks who might not qualify for those subsidies [free or reduced-price meals] but are still not being fed and are trying to learn on an empty stomach.”

The bill aims to change that by establishing a framework and state funding source to require all qualifying school sites to participate in the CEP program.

“Minnesota currently ranks 47th in the nation for schools enrolled in CEP,” Jordan said. “This bill is an opportunity for all of us Democrats, Republicans and independents representing urban, rural and suburban districts to come together to feed children.”

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