Hunger Free Vermont director: 83% of children ‘need’ universal school meals

Vermont Agency of Education

FREE MEALS FOR THE WEALTHY: Lawmakers are advancing a bill that would have Vermont provide meals for students in households earning up to $150,000.

The House Ways and Means Committee this week continued to hear from free meals advocates who said even middle- and upper-class families need free food at schools.

Advocates for universal school meals have been attempting to make the case that middle-to-upper-class families are struggling to provide basic needs for their children — even if their household income reaches $150,000.

Lawmakers of the committee have heard that as many as 83% of Vermont households have children who face food insecurity.

That number, which comes from Hunger Free Vermont, includes the 35,000 students who already are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals, plus 32,000 students existing “in the missing middle.” Another 14,000 students live in households with incomes above $150,000.

Anore Horton, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont

Anore Horton, executive director for Hunger Free Vermont, testified Tuesday that at least 83% of Vermont school children should get free meals funded by taxpayers as a result.

“They aren’t eligible for free-and-reduced price school meals but they are living in households that are not meeting all of their basic needs,” Horton said. “So that means that 83% of all the students in our public schools in Vermont are really students who need universal school meals.”

She added that about 25,000 students live in situations where they can’t get public support but need help.

“They estimate that about 25,000 school-age students then are over that income cutoff for free and reduced-price school meals of 185% of the federal poverty level but still eligible for Medicaid,” Horton said.

Currently 22 states, including Vermont, are considering universal school meal programs.

An amendment proposed to cap spending, redirect resources to those most in need

On Thursday,  Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury, offered an amendment to the universal school meals bill, H.165, that would allow universal school meals for the next two years, but the Legislature would be asked to examine if some form of a cap on state spending for this program would be appropriate.

“So basically cap it at a certain income level, take those savings, and make a recommend for how we can use those savings to get to kids that are truly food insecure and how we can support them outside of school day hours,” Beck said.

Beck said data could be collected at the end of 2023 to help determine which students fall into the category of really needing help.

Rep. Carolyn Branagan, R-Franklin, suggested that such an amendment might contribute to students knowing too much about their peers’ financial status at home.

“We’d like to get rid of that entirely so that nobody knows who pays and who doesn’t pay,” Branagan said.

Beck disputed the notion that children aren’t already privy to each other’s family financial status.

“I would say to the notion of stigma, I’ve worked in a school for a long time, and I know you’ve worked in schools for a long time too,” he said to Branagan. “Kids know who doesn’t have money based on their clothes or what car they arrive to school in, or what device they pull out of their pocket — that’s a big tell. I recognize that stigma is a thing, but can we deal with that and instead use those dollars to help kids that are hungry.”

What will it really cost?

Also on Tuesday, Julia Richter, a fiscal analyst for the Joint Fiscal Office, also spoke with the committee and reviewed the current public cost estimates for the bill.

“To recall, the bill creates ongoing state funding for school meals, breakfast, and lunch, to all publicly funded students at no charge to students of families, the cost of this universal school meals program will be borne by the Education Fund,” Richter said.

She said JFO estimates it will cost the state’s education fund about $29 million for the fiscal year of 2024.

“This means that the base homestead yield and/or the non-homestead tax rate will need to be adjusted to account for the cost of the program,” Richter said.

The estimated range of the actual cost is $26 million to $33 million. Variables include the constant fluctuation of the percentage of students who qualify for federal assistance. Another variable is the number of students who plan on taking these meals versus those who still prefer to bring their own. In addition, there can be differences between the money supplied by the federal government versus the actual costs of providing the meals.

The estimated tax impact for Vermont homeowners continues to be about 3 cents. The JFO report states: “All else equal, funding universal school meals through property taxes would result in an approximate $0.03 increase on both the homestead and non-homestead property tax rate.”

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

26 thoughts on “Hunger Free Vermont director: 83% of children ‘need’ universal school meals

  1. Of course EVERYONE except the rich are struggling but your not going to fix that by providing free food to all. That only exasperates the problem by higher taxes for all. The problem is the stupid voters voted (and a lot of dead people) voted in a un-American traitor swamp creature who wished to continue with obamas destruction of our country’s exceptionalism in favor of more socialism and bigger intrusive government. That can be fixed by reelecting the person and congress that wish to MAKE AMREICA GREAT AGAIN, booming economy, fuel independence, world peace, secured borders, and booming IRA’s. Then we can all afford our own food without libs/progs taxing us more.

  2. Gotta wonder what the parents of those starving children do with the money they are allotted each month to actually CARE for their children. Drugs,alcohol, come to mind.

  3. The thing to remember is rich people are that way because they get others to pay for them and what they want. So, instead of feeding their kids they pay for that SUV they really cannot afford or maybe they can. Instead of feeding their kids they pay for that cruise trip. Instead of feeding their kids they take them to Disney world to be groomed for sexual abuse. Instead of feeding their kids they buy the latest greatest Iphone or other expensive piece of plastic. Instead of feeding their kids they buy the newest greatest game console.
    We grew up poor and honestly this lady’s ideas are dangerous. It is impossible to get the state out of your business and they will be LOOKING for a reason to eject your kids from you. Haven’t you seen the commercials all over broadcast and streaming?

    To Anore Horton,
    Real simple. promote people actually taking care of their kids. Stop spreading propaganda to promote VT taking kids.
    This will put more people on more lists to take your kids. Example: you cannot afford to feed kids. In order to qualify you must submit a form that spells out how you spend your money. With that info they can now judge you incompetent to care for your child. WOW free money for YOUR children. OH, and they do not feed them any better.

  4. It’s not about feeding the poor, that’s the sorry excuse the useful idiots are trying to get the sheeple to believe. It’s about diet modification through legislation. Of course I believe kids should eat healthy, but they need to be offered food they will actually eat. I would bet my bottom dollar it would be veggie/vegan for the most part. Obesity and poor diet are huge national problem, but it’s not the friggin governments responsibility to decide what people can and cannot eat! Year after year Vermont just keeps getting closer to a communist dystopia.

  5. This would seem to indicate that 83% of parents are suffering unbelievably, since they cannot afford a meal for their children.

    Clearly we are moving in the wrong direction.

    A successfully run state and family should be able to afford lunch for their children. If the citizens are under so much stress, clearly the state is misguiding them at the very least.

  6. These “do-gooders” are foolish. LOOK at the picture leading this article. See?. If 83% of VT schoolchildren are FED THIS MEAL….90% of them will eat maybe one item…and throw the rest in the garbage can!! FREE food…WASTED….Dopey-Feel-Good-Liberals have NO idea that almost all kids will NOT eat their steamed, healthy broccoli or similar, for lunch. They’d maybe eat 10% of what is served and other 90% will be thrown away…and kids will dig into their backpack and eat all the JUNK FOOD they bring with them

    Michelle; Obama tried this already! IT FAILED…she was idiot enough to believe & mandate …that kids would love her almost all vegetarian meals….and steamed vegetables…..proving once again, Once again that, Ya’ can’t fix stupid. How many here grew up with Mac and cheese, hot dogs, chicken tenders, baked beans, chili, burgers, fries….chips, pizza…and we are alive & healthy. HOW MANY HERE ATE al dente steamed Broccoli, at school, for lunch?

    • Mr. Green is absolutely correct. I spent ten years on a school board in south eastern Vermont. I would frequently visit the elementary schools in the board’s district just to take a look-see during the day. Since I was working during most of the day, those visits were mainly were around the lunch period. Student lunches were either provided by a contracted food service and given free to eligible students on a plastic tray or brought from home in colorful lunch boxes or paper bags. The contracted meals were, at the ardent insistence of school staff and some parents, nutritionally balanced and included a lot of par boiled broccoli, asparagus, stewed green beans, raw cauliflower, carrot and celery strips, in addition to a small serving of chicken, beef, fish, or other source of protein, and fruit slices. The lunches brought from home were the homemade and time honored and loved PB & J, left over meatloaf, turkey, or roast or bologna sandwiches, with a small plastic bags of chips, and an a apple or other fruit. Cartons of 2% milk (alas no chocolate) were provided by the school. One of the most interesting parts of my lunchroom visits were the “Trash Can Inventories.” At the conclusion of lunch, the plastic trays provided by the food service company were neatly piled on a table by a trash can. And piled in the trash can were small mountains of par boiled broccoli, asparagus, green beans, and cauliflower, topped by half full cartons of watery 2% milk. In another can were empty paper sandwich bags, apple cores or banana peels, and half filled cartons of watery 2% milk. Very little actual food from home landed in this can.
      So as Mr. Green has mentioned, much of the food from the contracted food service, paid for at great expense by mostly unrepresented taxpayers, ended up as garbage, and essentially wasted money.
      The conclusions are obvious. Either strongly encourage parents to pack the lunches for their school aged children at home, (that arrangement is an entirely different conversation) or find food service companies who will prepare lunch items that the children will actually eat, with the approval of school administrations. I attended elementary school nearly 70 years ago and lunch was either a quarter to buy lunch prepared by cooks in school, or a PB & J and an apple in a rumpled paper bag from home with a note from ‘Mom.’ As now, the school provided the whole milk back then, and offered chocolate! And we all survived without the mandated food options of the “…Dopey-Feel-Good-Liberals.” Those fools will ultimately be the death of us all…

  7. VT has crossed from Socialism to almost a Communist system.. The Gov’t provides all, runs all, dictates all. Here’s a bill to feed 83% of schoolchildren, for free. VT demands healthcare as a right, subsidized and cheap. A large number in VT get’s subsidized/free Medicaid. Unions demand gold plated retirement benefits (which someone else pays the BILLIONS). 70% of VT’ers get their property taxes subsidized. The majority of VT’ers pay little in taxes….the supposed rich…about 20% of population pay 65% to 70% of income/property taxes. VT’ers now demand subsidized housing. Many VT’ers demand increased food stamps/SNAP. VT’ers now demand subsidized or free childcare. Demand low cost drugs. …Mass transit.. Many VT’ers demand free heating oil via LIHEAP.. VT education is now basically a subsidized free day care system, with lousy results…VT demands DEI…VT demand CRT….BLM…Many in VT demand Organic food to be mandated..there are a lot more examples….VT is WOKE and will go broke…once the 20% of those who are paying the bills…wise up.

    • When 60% of VT students can’t meet minimum standards in reading, writing, math and science, … and they graduate anyway, why would anyone expect anything other than this societal dysfunction?

      What’s amazing is that voters agree to pay more than the cost of a full year of undergraduate college costs, including room and board, just to educate a first or second grader.

      So not only are we creating this dysfunction, we’re paying through the nose to do it.

      I mean, really, how stupid can we be?

      We’ll see.

      • You may be surprised by that question.

        How greedy and power hungry can we get…….it can get pretty extreme.

        • Greed Neil.

          These Do-Gooders are empty vessels filled with Propaganda- they’ve been brainwashed.
          They are no different than a Junky with a bottomless pit needing to be filled by anything at all that makes them feel good.
          Perhaps it’s time to take a look at what I’m saying- because I am right.

          I’ve known drug addicts and I’ve known the Do-Gooders (and why do we have so many of both up here?) and they are driven by the same mentality- different products, but both equally destructive.

          To make people dependent on drugs OR THE STATE IS Criminal.
          How about we look at this way- if we intend to solve anything.

  8. It’s simple economics really: if you spend money on crack, you won’t have enough left to feed your children.
    So of course these subsidies are necessary. It’s “for the children”.

  9. Hmm. If 83% of all kids don’t have enough food, as this non-profit claims, they need to explain what has happened in society to cause that, before demanding everyone else pay for the kids food.

  10. I’m looking at the meals above.

    Does everyone remember what we supposedly learned when Michele Obama tried to feed kids all this healthy food that went in the garbage cans?
    No, kids don’t eat kale.
    How is that amount of waste a good thing?

    Most kids are not going to eat broccoli- nevermind raw broccoli- most adults don’t even raw broccoli.
    Strawberries are the number one MOST Sprayed fruit.. when I learned about the amount of pesticides on strawberries there were, I stopped giving them to my kids with developing bodies.
    And if that is cottage cheese- most kids don’t eat that either.. or potato salad..
    Kids are largely picky eaters.. so while adults may think this meal looks so impressive, the reality is that most of it will go in the garbage.
    How fast we forget.

    Most kids that actually need the food are not living in households where they eat like that (because they are buying groceries at the local Dollar General) so the kids are not going to eat what doesn’t look familiar to them -and no you are not going to make them do it either.

  11. These marxists are trying to remove all vestiges of parental responsibility for and involvement in their progeny’s lives. School is realistically supposed to prepare you for a life as a productive and contributing citizen. I dont know of any employers in the area other than those in the food service business that provide meals for their employees. UVM charges a fee in it’s cafeterias either through room and board payments or cash in order to eat. The restaurants in the area all charge to indulge in their offerings. This cradle to grave entitlement, deadbeat philosophy is wrecking our society.

  12. When will this socialist push end? Parents have the responsibility to feed their children. Get the government out of this dependency enabling takeover of families responsibilities. This is absolutely ridiculous.

  13. If middle and high-income families can’t afford to buy food, they better learn how to spend their money.

  14. Perhaps the outlandish numbers alleged by Hunger Free Vermont were based on the assumption that S.5, the “unAffordable Heat Act” would pass and become law.
    The idea that every low income child in Vermont is unable to access food is a liberal’s insult to the character of tens of thousands of hard working Vermont parents.
    This Anore Horton seems no more than a grifter, looking to build her enterprise on false premises.

  15. Is this a ‘red flag’?

    Hunger Free Vermont is one of many 501 (c) 3 organizations doing business in Vermont. It’s 2021 Annual report says the following.

    Total Revenue: $1,704,767

    Total Expenditures: $1,025,652

    Unaccounted for: $ 679,115

    Judging by Hunger Free Vermont’s previous 2018 IRS 990 disclosure, the $ 679,115 is employee salaries, other compensation, and benefits. So, isn’t there at least the potential for Anore Horton’s testimony to be a conflict of interest.

    • Exactly Jay..
      I have said so many times that when you dig in and look at all what the expansion of government and these non-profits have gotten into.. it’s clear they need a whole lot of “busy work” to justify their existence.

      These people often create their own work by being a “Do-Gooder” because they don’t want to do whatever the heck is around them for jobs.
      Well this is all well and good if what you are up to is actually wanted and needed– creating a need with fake data and lots of Emotion [read: DRAMA] is another entire thing.

      I just read an article by a California transplant that moved to Camden Maine and announced “There were no decent jobs in Camden so I knew I’d need to start my own business”
      And guess what it was: a non-profit by a California transplant.
      Now do all you natives to New England believe there was not ‘a decent job’ in all of Camden Maine? I think not. There was nothing the snobby, well off California woman wanted to do.

      What this mentality of the Do-Gooders has done is created dependent people and the idea that becoming dependent is a positive thing because it’s giving someone like this woman in this article and the one in Camden Maine a job to do, THAT is not okay at all.
      Growing a “Dependent State” is not a good thing at all.
      We live in incredible volatile and uncertain times, the last thing you want to do be dependent.
      (Ask the people in East Palestine how well they are being helped or ‘served’)

      How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb? OR take care of about 630K Vermonters?
      There are many companies today that employ more people than Vermont has residents.
      And they run these places with a board, with a management department and if they are smart, it’s lean and mean as these people are not producers.
      Further, they are starting to shed these jobs as well today because of the economy.. making well run businesses that intend to survive even leaner and meaner. But yet look at the size of the Vermont Government and in combination with all the Non-Profits!
      When 40% of your population works for the government that is like have 4 people there to manage 6 people. They need a whole lot of Busy Work -like this article is laying out.

      People that are intelligent enough to become ‘Middle Class’ are certainly smart enough to figure out how to feed their own kids.

      What I am saying here is that THIS is how the Culture has been created to believe that it’s good, okay and even admirable to take, to use, to expect, to Not Be Self Reliant and that this is good- or socially acceptable because it’s job creation. This is not true at all.
      When you want to end the growth of this never ending Welfare State it’s important to study the culture that is creating the mentality that this is a good thing- and take that on.

  16. A child living in a household earning above $150K is not able to afford lunch? 14,000 of them? Seriously…Vermont is a grifters paradise.

  17. “Middle-to-upper-class families are struggling to provide basic needs for their children — even if their household income reaches $150,000”?

    thanks to Joe Biden and the Democrats

  18. I got through primary school carrying my lunch to school in a steel lunchbox. I survived. That, of course, was over a half century ago. I vaguely recall in some instances there were rather small ego driven groups that sort of isolated themselves from the miserable vulgus to which the rest of us belonged, but our social groups (and I concede my memory may be flawed) seem to have been determined by our common interests, not by family wealth. We were not, at that age, socioeconomically sophisticated yet. Even in college, irrespective of wealth, the common rabble went to the Killarney Rose, the athletic/sports crowd to a different bar, and if you were seeking to argue law or politics over a beer on Friday night, yeah – that was another bar.

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