House passes universal school breakfast plus study committee to include lunches

The House on Tuesday passed a bill on second reading that would initiate a universal school breakfast program as well as a study on potentially including lunches.

Estimates for the cost for one year of breakfast and lunch are $29 million, to be taken from the education fund surplus — now at about $100 million.

Before the measure passed with an affirmative voice vote, some lawmakers grilled supporters on whether a universal meals program would create new tax burdens on the poor to subsidize the wealthy.

“The provisions that I just read in regards to other sources of revenue that are going to be considered, those such revenues are going to be paid for by the most vulnerable and the ones that qualify now for free and reduced lunch,” Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell, said on the House floor. “So basically you are going to make them pay for individuals that can readily afford to pay for their own child’s meals. So for that reason alone I won’t be supporting this bill.”

state of Vermont

Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, was among the House lawmakers expressing concerns that S.100 has middle- and lower-class Vermonters subsidizing free meals for the wealthy.

Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, shared a similar comment.

“As other members have pointed out, [some recipients] would be benefiting from the tax burden placed on lower-income families,” she said.

The bill received multiple amendments. Most notably, one adds the language “The Agency of Education may use the Universal Income Declaration Form to collect the household income information necessary for the implementation of a universal meals program.”

The use of this form — which doesn’t currently exist — will be necessary for federal funding for subsidized meals based on income. Those not covered by the federal government would then have to be covered by Vermont taxpayers. Critics suggested this could create pressure on families to share sensitive income information, and supporters argued that the form will remain optional.

Donahue inquired about data concerning the current state-supported meal programs of Vermont. She asked for the percentage of families making 400% over the federal poverty level, the percentage of Vermonters who are eligible for these meal programs, and the percentage of Vermonters who are actually engaged in the programs.

Rep. Erin Brady, D-Williston, one of the bill’s presenters, said the Agency of Education reports there was about a 30% participation rate for free or reduced breakfast program before the onset of COVID.  As of the beginning of this past school year participation increased to about 36%. Those numbers for the same time periods for free and reduced lunches are 55% and then 57%.

Donahue also suggested that the ratio of those utilizing the program compared to those earning over 400% of the federal poverty level could be a strong data point for policymakers to have.

“What’s most important is the difference between those who would be eligible and those who are actually accessing it,” she said. “… Again what you would be looking at is, when you look at bang for the buck, how many additional children would we be helping? And how many children who don’t need the help would that cost in order to reach those children?”

Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky, P-Essex Town, spoke out in support of the bill.

“I’ve worked as a school social worker and was part of a team for my school that scrambled at the onset of the pandemic to make sure that students were fed,” she said. “We delivered school meals and took boxes of food from our local food shelves so that kids could eat and the stress of the pandemic was decreased.

“As a school social worker I have worked in many different schools, some of which were known to be high-poverty schools, and some of which were not thought of in that way. And I know that universal school meals will make every single one of our schools stronger and better.”

Hunger Free Vermont posted on Twitter to celebrate the House’s approval.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Images courtesy of Vermont Agency of Education and state of Vermont
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11 thoughts on “House passes universal school breakfast plus study committee to include lunches

  1. The well-meaning legislature is just conditioning kids to what it will be like in the working world because everyone who works for a living has their breakfast and lunch paid for by their employer, right?

  2. More federally funded food rotting in coolers at the end of people’s driveways that can certainly afford to feed their children. Who needs breadlines when they can bring it right to your school or end of your drive? More government dependence. More power to the feds, less to the folk.

  3. The voters aren’t listening, they are either in a progressive trance (an awake coma) or ignorant to the facts that these policies destroy our state. Seniors who raised their children, fed, clothed, sheltered and taught their children on their own are now required to feed everyone’s children regardless of family wealth. It’s just another hidden tax buried in the education tax potion of your property taxes. It’s easy for legislators to spend other people’s hard earned dollars, especially the legislative trust funders, carpetbaggers and socialists who seldom donate anything to anyone. Legislators could care less, do what you’re told!!!

  4. Going hungry can cause people to better themselves so they aren’t hungry. I was there a couple of times and did something about it, so it never happened again. We are teaching the wrong message. — Now, that is not to say kids ought to left on their own and hungry, but the idea that everyone gets free everything in the name of equity is the wrong message. Its the communism is good message

  5. Our school in NH has school breakfasts and guess what, it’s nothing you want to feed your kids.
    It’s little boxes of cereal that is all nothing but sugar and chemicals.
    It’s bagels, that are nothing but loaded with empty carbs..
    Some honey bun thing that looks like a Little Debbie snack.

    Ya know, think about the food these kids are eating.. that junk for breakfast, some french fries and chicken nuggets for lunch and then parents get them home and throw a frozen pizza in the oven..
    And we wonder why our kids are off the wall, sick and out of control- now we are vaccinating them.

    And further.. did we not learn anything about our immune systems during this Covid mess?
    How on earth are these developing children going to create healthy immune systems when this is how they are being fed by the government?
    (Big Pharma loves this, they don’t want healthy people… see how this works?)

    • Yeah Laura, that was my concern that the meals would be the big
      Mike Obama meals from hell that no kid would eat. If we end up dumping
      two thirds of the meals in the trash it does no one any favor especially the
      tax payer who gets very little vote on the issue. Communism run
      amuck…

  6. Now if some enterprising young spark would track the cost of recycling the food scrap to discover it makes up half the cost of the overall program ….
    Recalling the waste associated with Ms. Obama’s socialist endeavors

  7. They will take your dog away if you don’t feed it and forbid you from ever having another one, but don’t feed your kids, not a problem. I always assumed I had to feed my child, I must be old fashioned.

  8. I’m sure there some people who need help, some always will but I’m surprised that most people can’t feed their own kids.

  9. Don’t be surprised when govt schools say –

    look, we have your kids 8hrs a day (many longer with after school) 9months a year, we are with them more than you. We are discipling them, mentoring them, we are training them. We are feeding them, we offer them healthcare (especially the schools with school based health centers), we transport them to and fro. We really are meeting most of their needs. At this point, why don’t we just build some dorms and house them. We can send them home on weekends.

    The govt and govt schools are convinced they can do a better job raising your kids than you.

  10. Fundamentally Changing America. This isn’t leveling the playing field. It’s redistributing wealth. YOUR wealth. It’s called SOCIALISM.

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