Maine Legislature Overrides LePage Veto of LD 1353, “An Act To Further Reduce Student Hunger”

Posted on February 18, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Last week, both chambers of the Maine Legislature took up and voted to override Governor LePage’s veto of LD 1353, “An Act To Further Reduce Student Hunger”. The Senate first took up the veto, sponsored by Senate President Justin Alfond.

Here is the floor speech he delivered to his colleagues, urging they join him in voting against the Governor:

    When I was 9 years old and living in Dexter, Tom was my classmate. We were friends and he liked to play sports. Back then, and through my 9-year old eyes, I remember he was “that kid” who got called down to the principal’s office. He was “that kid” who stayed in during recess. He was also “that kid” who missed a lot of school. What I realized later, with my adult eyes, is that Tom was “that kid” whose family–although they worked hard–didn’t have enough money to make sure Tom got enough food. He was hungry. I am sure that we all knew or know a Tom? Maybe there are a few of us in this room that was Tom?

    justin alfondAs a past member of the education committee, I now know that hunger is one of the most severe roadblocks to learning. A child who doesn’t have enough to eat, won’t do as well in school. They’re more likely to get sick more often—and, less likely to finish high school. Tom was “that kid”.

    That was more than 25 years ago.

  • Today, there are 84,000 students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
  • Today, twenty percent of Maine kids are food insecure–that’s nearly one in five.
  • Today, the state of Maine ranks third–only two other states in America have more children in hunger.

    That’s a list that we shouldn’t be on. In fact, that’s a ranking we should be ashamed of.

    Sometimes, the best solutions are the simplest. This bill is one small step–one common sense step toward making sure a hungry kid in Maine has the opportunity to get one meal a day during the summer-vacation months.

    Feeding hungry students is nothing new. We already have a program in place for making sure hungry students get fed during the school year. It’s a federal program, that Maine schools take part in. It’s called the National School Lunch Program.

    And feeding students during the summer is nothing new. In fact, the first summer food program began in 1968.

    Government–and our society–has long seen the need, and accepted the responsibility, to help provide nutrition to our neediest children.

    Today, if you all join me in supporting this bill (again), we can make a difference to 84,000 Maine kids who currently qualify for free or reduced lunch. Today, all we are asking–and expecting–is for the adults to have a conversation about the hungry children at their school, in their community. Today, we are asking schools who already offer summer programming like a rec program, to consider whether a summer food program is right for them.

    The food costs are paid for. The federal Summer Food Program picks up the food costs.

    The bill even allows schools to partner with churches or nonprofits or other community and civic organizations. In my home town of Portland, there’s a summer food program in the park—at Deering Oaks. The goal is to go to where the kids are and make it as easy as possible.

    But even still, if a school doesn’t want to participate, they can opt out. Ultimately, it’s a local decision.

    Some may ask, “Why is this necessary if schools already can ‘opt-in’ to a summer food program?”. The answer is simple: because there are still 70,000 kids across our state, in each of our districts, who are not getting fed in the summer. They are hungry.

    The question I ask each of you is, “Why wouldn’t we do this now?”

    Again I will ask you: “Why wouldn’t we do this now when food insecurity for Mainers is increasing?”

    This bill is more than just a bill, it’s a pledge, it’s a commitment by all of us that we need to change course; we need to build momentum to help our most precious assets, the children of our state.

    Today, you have a second chance to help feed our state’s hungry children so that we can make sure all of our kids, even the hungry, have the basic building blocks to go toe to toe with their classmates or in fact with anyone, anywhere.

    I hope you will join me.

Senator Colleen Lachowicz added: “At a time when more families are struggling to make ends meet and more children are hungry, it is irresponsible and unconscionable of us not to do everything we can to reduce student hunger.”

The Senate voted 25-10 in support of the override; it then next went to the House. Some quick notes taken during the resulting floor debate:

    Reps Ben Chipman, Tori Kornville rose in support; now Jeff McCabe. Peter Johnson (r-Greenville) spoke in opposition, saying that it should be left to local communities.

    Now Corey Wilson, (R-Augusta). He tells the chamber again of how he was one of these children and urges support in overriding the veto.

    Rep. Helen Rankin (D-Hiram) speaks to address her colleagues in the House (2013).

    Rep. Helen Rankin (D-Hiram) speaks to address her colleagues in the House (2013).

    Bruce Macdonald, one of the committee chairs, spoke and now Karen Kusiak.

    GOP Rep. McClellan of Raymond opposes on funding concerns later on. He also opposes it as a mandate. Unhappy that schools are giving medical care, etc and not simply teaching (paraphrase).

    Jeff Timberlake (R-Turner) asks questions re: whether or not this is allowed in school; Seth Berry answering.

    Anne Graham speaking in support, tells how health and nutrition work together.

    Diane Russell (D-Portland) rises to ask “how did we get to a place where we are debating whether or not to reduce student hunger”?

    Jennifer DeChant (D-Bath) discusses her work in 1992 with national campaign to end hunger.

    Dennis Keschl (R-Belgrade) asks question re: better to educate schools on the program.

    Gay Grant (D-Gardiner) gives personal story of how the reduced lunches helped.

    Elizabeth Dickerson (D-Rockland) next, telling of her communities’ 40% lower income poverty that kids in her school live in, every day. That she has taught algebra and discovered that some kids have not eaten all day- she and other teachers routinely keep snacks in their desks for these students.

    Jeff McCabe )D-Skowhegan) answers the earlier Keschl question; now Brian Jones… Strong statement regarding body’s charge if taking care of common welfare of Maine citizens.

    Matthea Daughtry (D-Brunswick) next, another committee member.

    Scott Hamann (D- South Portland) talking about going to a school pantry in Biddeford yesterday and Hannaford’s helping.

    Terry Hayes speaks of how she just came from an ethical meeting. “We continue to add to what schools need to do”… Will vote to override, but understands the GOP argument.

    Paul McGowan of York also answers Keschl.

    Now Ray Wallace (R-Dexter) asks what folks had for breakfast or lunch when they were kids- grew up in family of 8 kids and single mom, no help. Did not suffer and was able to learn. Let the parent raise the child. They get food stamps; are they spending it on food… Or something else? Let the parent feed them!! If they aren’t gonna feed them, cut the welfare!

    Rep Soctomah next, was raised on state reservation. Speaks of her own background, very emotional issue for her.

    Rep. Helen Rankin addresses House; urges support of override.

Bangor Daily News reported the following quotes from legislators:

Rep. Corey Wilson (R-Augusta) interviewed by WCSH in 2013.

Rep. Corey Wilson (R-Augusta) interviewed by WCSH in 2013.

Rep. Victoria Kornfield (D-Bangor): “Vetoing this bill did not save the state funds. Instead, it left federal funding on the table. … Frankly, I am surprised that the chief executive vetoed this bill because the summer program is exactly the compassion he talked about in his State of the State speech.”

Rep. Peter Johnson (R-Greenville): “The fact that we have to pass a law to have adults have a conversation says something about this bill. I think we should have the confidence in our citizenship to allow them to do that without passing another mandate.”

Rep. Michael McClellan (R-Raymond): “If we don’t look at issues like this and come up with the root of the problem and why it’s happening, then it’s a Band-Aid and we’ll be here again in a year or two to deal with it again. I don’t think it’s just or fair to keep burdening our schools with these things.”

Rep. Corey Wilson (R-Augusta): “I grew up quite poor and relied on food from the food pantry. I also did receive free breakfasts and free lunches from the school and I’m thankful for that. I rise in support of overriding the veto. It’s just the right thing to do. We have an opportunity here to feed children and I feel that if we ever have that opportunity, we should go for it. … I want to see the children in my community have the ability to simply be fed.”

Rep. Karen Kusiak shared her floor speech:

    Thank you Mr. Speaker, Women and Men of the House:

    I rise to speak in support of the motion before us; we must override the unfortunate veto of LD 1353, and Act to Further Reduce Student Hunger.

    Rep. Karen Kusiak of Fairfield

    Rep. Karen Kusiak of Fairfield

    One of the school districts I represent, MSAD 49 – where I served on the school board – has cooperatively participated in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) for a number of years. We serve children and youth who attend a community supported summer recreation program and children who attend a summer school program.

    (It may be that other school districts in my legislative district have summer food service programs, I don’t know for sure.) But I do know that my county, Somerset, has over 55% of our students qualifying for the federal lunch program. Our county, like other poor counties in the state, have children who rely on the school lunch programs for their basic nutrition. Children and youth up through the age of 18 who live within the geographic boundary of a school district with such a high participation in the school lunch program can participate in the Summer Food Service Program.

    The SFSP is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and run by the Maine Department of Education. The Maine DOE already encourages school districts to participate in the program. Look at their child nutrition programs page – there is plenty of information about getting a SFSP started and suggestions for making the reporting and paperwork relatively easy.

    From the DOE Website: “The Summer Food Service Program provides meal reimbursement to eligible summer programs. Communities throughout Maine have opened the door to the SFSP and helped close the door on summer hunger. Sponsors include schools, community recreation programs, nonprofit organizations and camps. Maine has over 87 sponsors with an estimated 254 sites for children to have a summer meal at no cost. Almost 481,000 meals and snacks were served in 2012.”

    Yet, even with the 87 sponsors and 254 sites, still the Maine Center for Economic Policy calculated in 2011 that Maine was using only about 10% of federal USDA funds that we are eligible to receive for Summer Food Service Programs (SFSP.) That means that children and youth in Maine who are eligible for the program are not able to participate, and are likely going hungry or not eating balanced meals.

    More Maine children and youth can be served through SFSP. Holding more school districts responsible for SFSP is the right thing to do.

    Opting out is permitted – a school board need only publicize that it will be conducting a public hearing on opting in or out of the program and vote on the question in a public meeting. A School Board may opt out, for example, after noting and telling the community that a local recreation program offers the SFSP for children and youth in their community. However, where no such program is provided, this bill will encourage local school districts to participate in the program or provide an opportunity for local residents to urge – through the public meeting – that schools participate in the program.

    It is very simple. Overriding this bill is the right thing to do for hungry, developing (growing) children who need good nutrition, and it provides support for poor and working class families.

Here is the floor speech of Rep. Scott Hamann:

    Thank you Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, Men and Women of the House.

    Yesterday I visited a food pantry at an elementary school in Biddeford. I saw wonderful families file through, gratefully gathering their groceries. Volunteers greeting them at the door, and offering their help. Hannaford was there. They had a nutrition specialist ready to answer questions and offer recipe suggestions specific to the types of food that was being distributed by the school pantry. Some girl scouts set up a table and were giving out free books.

    This is where community happens. In our schools. Our community activities and activity centers. That’s why it’s the perfect place to implement and optimize an available federal resource – the Summer Food Service Program – to address child hunger…something that no reasonable person would consider anything other than a dire concern.

    Rep. Scott Hamann (D- South Portland) speaks at a press conference is support of raising minimum wages.

    Rep. Scott Hamann (D- South Portland) speaks at a press conference is support of raising minimum wages.

    Hunger…doesn’t happen just 9 months out of the year. The hunger pains don’t go away just because a child finishes second grade and begins their summer vacation. They have three months to wait to start third grade, get back to school, and get back to more predictable nutrition. That’s not right. That student doesn’t come back in September equally as prepared as a student who spent their summer knowing where their next meal was coming from. That’s not fair. And that is what the Summer Food Service Program is designed to address, and why this food is fully funded by the federal government.

    We talk about opportunity, self reliance, education, an educated workforce. The building blocks of all those things is food security in childhood. If we want a world class labor force, we need to make sure that kids’ stomachs are full and their developing brains are getting the nutrients they need.

    In that respect, the Chief Executive’s veto of LD1353 is shortsighted. Why would we ever want to handicap our next generation’s workforce? Why wouldn’t we do everything in our power to ensure that we are delivering Maine’s business community the best employees possible? A generation raised free from food insecurity. This bill is a step in that direction.

    At a time when pantry lines… are almost longer than the list of excuses why we can’t rise to the challenge of addressing child hunger… hopefully this vote is unanimous to reflect how both parties unequivocally support the morally right and responsible effort to address child hunger. Hopefully both sides of the aisle can work together in the future as well to take further steps to address what ought to be one of the most bipartisan…nonpartisan issues in the state house – protecting a child’s next meal.

Ultimately the House also voted to override the veto by a 2 vote margin, 92-45. Only four GOP members joined Democrats in overriding the veto: Rep. Corey Wilson, Rep. Joyce Maker (R-Calais), Rep. Matthew Pouliot (R-Augusta) and Rep. Ellen Winchenbach (R-Waldoboro).

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