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Legislative Priorities: Talking Points 130t​h​ Maine State Legislature

Legislative Goals:

●  Give all Maine kids a chance to thrive and succeed

●  Increase equity in Maine schools

●  Streamline school nutrition programs


1. LR 1396: An Act to Address Student Hunger through a Universal Free School Meals Program Senate President Troy Jackson

➢ The policy: ​The State of Maine would contribute funding to cover the cost of paid students in the School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs, so that all students in Maine can access school meal programs without cost.

➢ Why School Meals for All?

  • ○  It’s about equity.​ The current policy for school meals, whereby some children are

    expected to pay while others receive their meals for free, creates stigma and shame for those students that rely on school meals for their basic needs, and a barrier for those students who are not eligible but are still experiencing food insecurity.

  • ○  Requiring some students to pay and others to fill out paperwork in order to be eligible puts unnecessary administrative burdens on school nutrition staff. Instead of focusing their time and efforts on feeding kids, school nutrition staff are chasing down paperwork and school lunch debt.

  • ○  Make healthy school meals accessible to children in families with immigrant status, who may otherwise be reluctant to apply for free or reduced-price meals or enroll in public benefits programs (e.g. SNAP) out of fears of immigration retribution

  • ○  Participation by all students in school meal programs increases when meals are provided for free, resulting in increased revenue by way of federal reimbursements.

  • ○  Students aren’t expected to pay for books, desks, bus fare, etc, why should school breakfast and lunch be any different?

  • ○  Students who participate in school meals, particularly those who are experiencing food insecurity, have better health outcomes, have improved test scores, are more likely to graduate, etc. ​Let’s pay for good nutrition now instead of poor outcomes later.

  • ○  We’re feeding all kids for free now, let’s not go back to the way we fed kids pre-Covid because it wasn’t working

  • ○  Schools across our state struggle to reconcile school lunch debt, Universal Meals would eliminate school lunch shaming and unpaid school meals debt

■ Because school meal debt cannot be paid for using federal child nutrition funds, districts must cover the cost out of their general education funds, which takes funding away from non-nutritional educational supports

○ A hungry child can’t learn

  • ○  Access to school meals can reduce behavioral problems and hunger related visits to the nurses office

  • ○  Maine already picks up the tab for children eligible for reduced price meals

2. LD 655: An Act to Require at Least a 30-minute Lunch Period for Students

Representative Jan Dodge
➢ Thepolicy:​RequireMaineschoolstoallowatleast30minutesseatedtimeforNationalSchool

Lunch Program

➢ Whymandate30minutesofseattimeforstudentstoeatlunchatschool?

○ Maine currently advises school districts to allocate at least 20 minutes of a student’s day

for lunch. However, this includes the time it takes to walk to the cafeteria, wait in line, sit down, and eat. ​Research has shown that the last student in line has 2-3 minutes to eat their lunch.

  • This results in less food ending up in a child’s belly and increased food waste in cafeterias.

  • Healthy choices like raw vegetables take longer to consume.

  • A hungry child can’t learn, short lunch periods make it challenging for a student

    to pay attention and be an active participant for the rest of the school day

    3. LD 636: An Act to Encourage the Purchase of Local Foods for Public Schools Senator Eloise Vitelli

    ➢ Thepolicy​:

  • ○  Expand Local Produce Fund program to allow schools to source local foods via other

    sources, instead of only directly from farms

  • ○  Increase cap on reimbursement from DOE to encourage more local purchasing

  • ○  Expand beyond produce to other local foods (meat, fish, tofu, eggs, value-added dairy)

    ➢ WhymakeupdatestotheLocalProduceFund?

○ In a survey to School Nutrition Directors statewide:

  • school nutrition programs reported that they would spend more on local products if they were able to receive more in reimbursements since local products tend to be more expensive

  • School districts face many challenges in sourcing local food directly from farmers, and reported that they would be more likely to purchase locally if they could do so from their contracted food service distributor

  • School nutrition programs also reported that expanding the products that can be purchased and reimbursed through the fund beyond only produce to include value-added dairy and protein would make it more likely that they would use the fund.

  • Purchasing produce that has been peeled, chopped, frozen, etc would help expand capacity to serve local foods

■ Expanding this fund will eliminate many barriers school nutrition programs face in sourcing and providing local foods to students

4. LD 362: Resolve, To Require the Department of Education to Form a Family Income Data Collection Working Group        Representative Michael Brennan

➢ The policy: ​Convene a legislative work group to examine alternative ways for schools to collect income data from families.

➢ Why does Maine need to collect family income data and why do we need an alternative method?

  • ○  In order to receive federal funding to support school meal programs and other critical educational programs, Maine school districts must collect family income data.

  • ○  This task usually falls on the shoulders of school nutrition staff via a “meal benefit application,” taking up a lot of administrative time that could be better spent on activities more directly related to feeding children.

  • ○  The current method of collecting this information results in inaccurate and incomplete data, which potentially means fewer federal dollars flowing to Maine schools.

    • this impacts important educational programs, Title 1 funding, and school nutrition budgets

    • earlier this school year, Maine DOE reported a gap of 17,000 missing school meal applications from previously eligible students in SY 19/20

  • ○  The current method potentially excludes students and families from receiving free school meals

■ when a family doesn’t return their application and also isn’t able to pay for school meals, school meal debt accrues

● at the end of the school year, any school meal debt remaining must be reconciled out of the school district’s budget

  • ○  Maine already collects family income data for other programs like SNAP, Mainecare, TANF, rental assistance, etc

    • some but not all of these other programs can be used to directly certify students for free school meals

    • Mainecare and rental assistance are not included as direct certification qualifiers in Maine

  • ○  the current method of requiring a family to share income data is often wrapped up in shame and stigma

  • ○  USDA requires that family income data is collected via school meal benefit applications in order for school nutrition programs to receive federal reimbursement, so in order to take this off the shoulders of school nutrition staff the alternative method of collecting family income data may need to be an approved pilot program in partnership with USDA FNS

5. LD 961: An Act to Provide Equity in Access to Applications for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program       Representative Rebecca Millett

➢ The policy: ​Create a statewide school meal benefit online application, housed on the Department of Education’s website, so families can easily apply for school meals online. The data submitted via the application would not be visible to the Department of Education, but would be transferred directly to local districts.

➢ Why create a one-stop online school meal application?

  • ○  Paper meal benefit applications are often not filled out and returned to schools.

  • ○  A best practice to expand access to meals and ensure a higher application return rate is

    to also provide an online application.

  • ○  Maine DOE currently has funding for schools to contract with a software company for

    district-specific online applications. A statewide online application, available to all families at a single URL, would allow for easy access to the application and would improve communication with families about filling out the application.

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