Monday May 27, 2019
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Oregon Expands Federal Free Lunch Program

The meals expansion program is tucked away in a new tax package for schools

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Teacher Diana Feke helps Mason Baker during lunch at the Eastham Community Center Claskamas County Children's Commission Head Start, April 9, 2012, in Oregon City. VOA

Oregon is spending $40 million to dramatically expand its federal free breakfast and lunch program, ensuring that more than 60 percent of its 400,000 public school students will be included, the largest statewide effort in the country.

The program is based on providing free meals to any child whose family lives at up to three times the poverty level, which is $75,000 for a family of four.

New tax package

The meals expansion program is tucked away in a new tax package for schools, a sweeping $1 billion annual investment explicitly dedicated to boosting student performance. It will be paid for through a new half a percent tax on business.

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Oregon will allow 761 schools to provide free lunch and breakfast to approximately 345,000 students. Pixabay

Chicago and New York City are among some major cities that offer free breakfast and lunch to all students, but this is the only statewide program according to Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon.

“Hungry kids don’t think about education nearly as much as having something in their stomach,” said Sen. Arnie Roblan, a Democrat from Coos Bay who helped craft the legislation.

Oregon will allow 761 schools to provide free lunch and breakfast to approximately 345,000 students.

One in seven households is “food insecure,” according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy , meaning that families have trouble putting food on the table and often don’t know where they’ll get their next meal.

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At least 174,000 children have limited access to food, more than the population of Oregon’s second largest city, Eugene.

Hunger-Free Kids Act

At least 62% of students attend a school with high federal poverty rates. These schools can get federal assistance to provide free meals to all their students no matter their income levels under the 2011 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a policy championed by former first lady Michelle Obama.

But even though these schools may qualify for assistance, not all of them take advantage of it because of low federal reimbursement rates. The reimbursement rate is different for each school, depending on the school’s poverty level.

Schools with lower reimbursement rates often choose to provide free meals only to students living about two times above the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that would require an income up to $50,000.

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Schools with lower reimbursement rates often choose to provide free meals only to students living about two times above the federal poverty level. Wikimedia Commons

Around a third of food insecure students in Oregon, however, live above that poverty threshold meaning they’re ineligible for free meals under the federal program, according to data from Feeding America .

Tim Sweeney, a superintendent in Oregon’s impoverished South Coast, said that his district runs a deficit because it chooses to take on the cost of feeding all its students. Many students are completely dependent on schools for food, he said.

But even with federal assistance, it costs around $25,000 a year to provide free breakfast and lunches, money Sweeney said could have gone to textbooks.

“Poverty is a huge deal here and so many students rely on schools to provide them with food and a warm place for shelter,” he said. “Food service may not be a winning game, but we know it means the world to these kids.”

Gov. Brown signs package

Gov. Kate Brown signed the school funding tax package, but it’s likely to be referred to the voters to decide in 2020, thanks to Oregon’s robust referendum process.

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Republicans, who make up the minority of the Legislature, sought to block the package by refusing to show up to the Capitol to vote, shutting down all business for a week. They returned Monday at which point the measure was swiftly approved.

Although the tax package was partisan, Roblan says this is the one provision that was never up for debate.

“This is a big buy for our state,” he said. “But there was no hesitation. This is the right thing to do.” (VOA)

Next Story

The Institution Of Governors to Play Crucial Role: Modi

Governors could leverage their experience in different walks of life

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The Institution Of Governors to Play Crucial Role: Modi
The Institution Of Governors to Play Crucial Role: Modi, flickr

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday the Governors had a crucial role to play within the constitutional framework and they could ensure better implementation of the central schemes for the benefit of a larger section of the population.

Addressing the opening session of the 49th Conference of Governors at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Modi said the Governors could leverage their experience in different walks of life to ensure people get the maximum benefit of various central development schemes and initiatives.

The institution of Governor had a “pivotal role to play within the federal structure and Constitutional framework of our country”, he said.

The Prime Minister said Governors of states with significant tribal population can help in ensuring financial inclusion of the tribal communities as well as in facilitating various government initiatives in fields such as education, sports and others to reach them.

This was in consonance with the message given by President Ram Nath Kovind earlier who asked the Governors to use their position in bringing about changes in the lives of those marginalised and enhancing higher education standards in the country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with mayor
Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with mayor, flickr

The Prime Minister mentioned some key themes of development such as the National Nutrition Mission, electrification of villages and development parameters in the aspirational districts. He suggested that Governors could visit a few recently electrified villages to witness first-hand the benefits of electrification.

Noting that the Governors were also the Chancellors of state universities, he said they could help ensure that admissions, appointments, examinations and convocations were on time.

He said that International Yoga Day on June 21 could be utilized as an opportunity to generate greater awareness about yoga among the youth and the universities could also become the focal point for the celebrations for Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th anniversary.

Modi suggested that planning for the 50th Governors’ Conference next year should begin immediately. This effort should focus on making this annual event even more productive.

Earlier, in his inaugural address at the Conference, Kovind observed that the Governor was “a mentor and guide to the state and an important link in the federal structure”.

“As per the Constitution, the post of Governor has an exalted place in the scheme of governance. The Governor is a mentor and guide to the state and an important link in the federal structure.

“The people of the state view the office of the Governor and the Raj Bhavan as a fount of ideals and values,” he told the Governors and Lt Governors.

He said the Governors could help in shaping the roadmap for the betterment of lives of the citizens who have not benefited “as much as expected from our development journey”.

The central focus for this year’s conference is to sensitise the attending state heads to the programmes being implemented for citizens who have been left behind in the country’s developmental journey.

The two-day meet will discuss important issues including flagship programmes, internal security, higher education, skill development, steps taken on the report of Committee of Governors set up during the 48th Conference and commemoration of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

It will also discuss schemes being run in the 115 aspirational districts across the country to help Governors better understand and enable them to guide the stakeholders in the welfare schemes for the poor, women, Dalits and tribals, farmers and young people, said Kovind.

“There are approximately 100 million people in our country who belong to the Scheduled Tribes. A majority of this population lives in regions that are covered under the Constitution’s Fifth and Sixth Schedule,” he said about the people who need support.

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Apart from the Governors and Lt Governors of all states and Union Territories, Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, various Union Ministers besides the NITI Aayog CEO and other senior officials were also at the meet. (IANS)