MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken wants the federal government, not the state government, to cover the 40-cent co-pay required if a child can’t come up with the money while in line for school lunch.
For the third time in five years, Franken is introducing a bill he says “would fundamentally move toward elimination of the reduced-price category of the free and reduced price meal program so that all kids get the meals they need each day.”
Franken got a taste of school lunch Monday with the kindergartners at Meadow Lake Elementary School in Brooklyn Park.
Some 79 percent of the students at the school come from lower-income families who qualify for free or reduced lunches, according to school district officials.
And Robbinsdale Area Schools, which Meadow Lake is a part, provides a lunch even if parents don’t deposit the 40-cent co-pay for the meal.
Franken told educators Monday that children are turned away in lunch lines in other parts of Minnesota, and all around the country.
“Kids who haven’t eaten at lunch, who don’t have a full stomach, don’t do as well in school,” Franken said. “This is wrong.”
Robbinsdale Area Schools absorb the cost of unpaid school lunches, which sometimes amounts to as much as $40,000 a year.
Adele Lillie, the district’s child nutrition program director, says family lunch accounts can hover at empty at different times for different reasons.
“It can be a lot if your car breaks down, if the kids, you know, lose their shoes, lose their mittens,” she said. “So you gotta go replace those.”
According to Franken’s office, the bill will be introduced in the next few weeks.
The following is a summary of the bill, provided by Franken’s Senate office:
“Currently, children who are at 130 percent of the poverty qualify for free school meals. Children in families with incomes between 130-185 percent of poverty (or between $32,198 and $44, 123 for a family of four in 2014) fall into the reduced price category. The bill will expand the free meal category to children at 185 percent of poverty, thus moving toward eliminating the reduced price meal category altogether.”