As federal COVID funds run dry, some still want state-funded school meals

Vermont Agency of Education

PUBLIC FOOD FOR ALL?: Multiple groups are urging state lawmakers to proceed with a state-funded school lunch program that is about to run out of federal funds.

As federal funding for Vermont’s COVID-era school meal program is about to run dry, hunger advocates are pressing state lawmakers to keep the free meals going using Vermont tax dollars.

Hunger Free Vermont is one leading organization urging lawmakers to continue the free meals program. Solving Hunger, an initiative started by venture capitalist Bradley Tusk, is another. Tusk has written articles that have been featured in publications including Techonomy, VentureBeat, TechCrunch, and Forbes.

In 2022, Vermont used a one-time surplus in the state’s education budget to keep the program going beyond the initial pandemic. It’s not currently clear where funding might come from if the program is to survive.

Last week, Jon Ramsay, executive director at the Center for Agricultural Economy (CAE), testified before the Senate Committee on Agriculture about current proposals. His group operates a facility in Hardwick, Vermont, called the Food Venture Center, which provides resources and professional assistance for local farmers and other food producers.

Ramsay talked about the importance of working with local producers and services to get food from harvest to table, and added that food producers operate on thin profit margins.

“The price point is really hard, the budgets are razor-thin,” he said. “What it costs to produce and then process and then deliver and truck … again we’re very thankful for the Working Lands Enterprise Funds that we’re going to receive,” he said. “… It’s a lot to sort of maintain on a yearly basis with limited [resources].

Richard Berkfield representing Food Connects

Richard Berkfield, the executive director for Food Connects, also spoke to the committee. He said while his program is not as comprehensive as CAE, it also has been seeing dramatically increased demand for its services in recent years. He described his group’s operations as “aggregation and distribution” with a wholesale strategy in particular.

“We want to keep prices as high as we can for the farmers, but also as low as we can for the schools to purchase,” he said.

In addition to the economic benefits to Vermont of selling local foods, Berkfield suggested locally sourced food is about eating healthy.

Study findings 

A study by the National Institutes of Health in 2002 called “Diet, Breakfast, and Academic Performance in Children” concluded that “food insecurity is strongly correlated to higher levels of anxiety and irritability among children.”

The report continues that hunger-related conditions contribute to a myriad of social and mental challenges.

“Teens experiencing hunger are more likely to have difficulty getting along with peers, get suspended from school, see a psychologist, have suicidal tendencies, and struggle with depression, as compared to their food-secure peers,” the report states

The study also asserts that there are Vermonters who currently do not financially qualify for public assistance for food but are nonetheless living in food-insecure homes.

“In addition, up to 42% of children living in food-insecure homes in Vermont were not eligible for free or reduced-price school meals,” it states.

Last year, lawmakers commissioned Vermont’s Joint Fiscal Office to search for new funding resources for state-funded school meals — in the interest of making such a program permanent.

Not all Vermonters want a ‘free’ meal

The study notes that about a quarter of Vermonters who qualify for ‘free’ lunches were not taking them. That percentage increases up to half when it comes to state-funded breakfast. This data comes from the Hunger Free Vermont study.

The entire Vermont Senate Committee on Agriculture meeting from Jan. 25 can be viewed online here.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Vermont Agency of Education

4 thoughts on “As federal COVID funds run dry, some still want state-funded school meals

  1. Think about this in the big picture.

    Parents are not even being expected to feed their own kids– even animals feed their own babies.
    You talk about Enabling these people! and on the backs of the taxpayers- no less!

    It’s more imperative today than ever that people learn to be self sufficient and not dependent.
    We are in the midst of a whole lot that is collapsing.
    One lesson that hopefully people are learning loud and clear is that it’s nuts to depend upon the government- so why teach this to parents and their kids by feeding them like livestock?

    I’d think that the very first thing here would need to be is to expect adults to feed their own kids.

  2. ““In addition, up to 42% of children living in food-insecure homes in Vermont were not eligible for free or reduced-price school meals,”

    Wouldn’t that indicate political leftist hacks have made Vermont so overtaxed and over regulated lower and middle class can’t afford the food they need? Perhaps they should put the climate hoax on the sideline until they can straighten out the affordability of living here. Their not going to do squat about gorebull warming on a world wide scale and they can’t just control the climate in VT though they think they can.

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