This afternoon the Senate Education Committee considered two bills – SB 146 and SB 38 – in hopes of expanding Minnesota’s free lunch program to 61,500 students.
“We can all agree that hungry children can’t learn,” said Senator Jeff Hayden at the start of the meeting.
The bills would provide a free lunch to the more than 61,000 students who currently qualify for Minnesota’s reduced price lunch program, which costs families 40 cents a day. Unfortunately, not all low-income families can afford even that and some students are turned away without food, according to MPR.
“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 Project.
Legal Aid surveyed about half of the school districts in the state to find out what schools do when students run out of money in their lunch accounts. The group found that in some lunch lines, such children can’t get a meal.
“We found that about 20 percent of districts do have a policy of turning a child away with nothing,” Webster said. “It looks different in a lot of districts. Some days you’ll get a peanut butter sandwich for three days, and then they’ll send you away. Some days you’ll get crackers, and then you get turned away after a week.”
Children who are hungry are more likely to be sick, more likely to get severe types of sicknesses and to be sick for longer periods of time, according to Mark Miazga, research coordinator at the University of Minnesota, who testified at the hearing. As a result, these children miss more school, are more likely to struggle with mental illness and emotional problems and are more likely to be suspended from school.
Miazga also told the committee that hungry children are more likely to have behavioral problems, engage in delinquent behavior, go through the criminal justice system and engage in substance abuse.
And according to economic cost estimates, the average daily cost of hospitalization for a child is $12,000 — that doesn’t include additional costs such as added staff time of law enforcement and extra costs to citizens, property owners and small businesses who suffer from delinquency crimes.
“Passing this bill can help cut down on these expenses,” Miazga said.
Both bills were referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
“This is not just a nutrition or hunger gap — it’s an achievement gap in our schools,” said Samuel Chu, a Nat’l Syngagoue Oragnizer for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, who testified at today’s hearing.