ND Lawmakers Hear Plan for No-Cost Lunch for All Students

Mike Moen

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota families facing hardships could see some relief from state lawmakers, with a bill that calls on the state to cover school meal expenses for all students over the next two years.

This week, the House Education Committee heard testimony on House Bill 1413, which would set aside more than $80 million in Legacy Funds to ensure each public-school student has access to free breakfasts and lunches through the school year.

Supporters say it's a response to increasing need, but also to help end lunch-debt shame for lower-income kids.

Krisanna Peterson, a paraprofessional at Mandan High School and a parent, believes more families need this help than one might think.

"I have seen families who don't qualify for free lunch struggle to pay for lunch, and sometimes, the kids don't eat," Peterson observed. "Even middle-class families can struggle at times to pay for lunch."

The bill's sponsor said despite enhanced federal lunch aid during the crisis, the state can offer a cushion for families as the pandemic subsides.

Some school food directors applaud the effort, but wonder how it will impact federal food subsidies based on qualification benchmarks. School administrators also wonder if the state funding commitment would be sustainable.

Landis Larson, president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO, told the House committee proposals like this can keep working families from falling off a financial cliff as they try to recover from the pandemic.

"We think that this savings to working families would be beneficial going forward, and believe that it is an important investment in the future of our state," Larson contended.

A committee vote on the measure could happen as early as next week. The sponsor said if it stalls, the state might be asked to study the issue so it doesn't fall by the wayside.

Currently, nearly 30,000 North Dakota students receive free and reduced-price school meals.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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