Deliberation among lawmakers over providing free lunch for all students or focusing on providing more support based on individual needs

State Representative Sherae’a Moore, a Democrat from Middletown, has proposed House Bill 125, which aims to provide free school meals to all students attending public schools in Delaware.

The House Education Committee passed the bill this week, but there were concerns raised by several lawmakers about its $40 million annual fiscal cost. Only nine out of 16 members voted to release it to the House Appropriations Committee.

State Representative Valerie Jones Giltner (R-Georgetown) questioned the rationale behind providing a complimentary meal to a well-off family who can easily afford it.

State Representative Bryan Shupe (R-Milford South) is in agreement with Jones Giltner’s viewpoint. In fact, he has taken it a step further by announcing his plans to introduce a bill this week. This proposed legislation aims to address the issue of students who qualify for reduced-price school breakfast and lunches. Specifically, it seeks to cover the cost of meals for these students. Rep. Shupe’s proactive approach demonstrates his commitment to ensuring that all students have access to nutritious meals, regardless of their financial circumstances.

Currently, students from households that receive federal assistance programs like SNAP or TANF are eligible for free school meals. This also applies to students who are experiencing homelessness.

Shupe’s bill proposes expanding the state’s coverage of meal expenses for students from families with incomes ranging between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty threshold.

“I believe that means testing is beneficial in targeting the families that truly need assistance, regardless of the specific criteria for means testing. It allows us to provide support to those who require it, without burdening families who are capable of supporting themselves,” Shupe explains.

Shupe’s bill would incur a significantly lower cost for the state, amounting to approximately $300,000 per year, in comparison to Moore’s bill.

State Representative Eric Morrison (D-Glasgow), who co-sponsors Moore’s bill, believes that there are families who require financial aid but do not meet the means-testing thresholds. Drawing from his experience in means-tested programs like Medicaid and other healthcare programs, Morrison emphasizes that such programs often fail to reach those who truly need assistance. He highlights the limitations of means-testing programs, stating that they overlook various crucial factors, ultimately relying on a fixed cutoff point that fails to account for individual circumstances.

Moore believes that feeding children should be the responsibility of the state. In her opinion, families are already shouldering a significant burden, especially in the current situation, and the issue of inflation has not even been addressed.

She also mentioned a bill by State Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker (D-Wilmington) that was recently approved in the House and is now heading to the Senate for further review, as part of her argument in favor of the proposed legislation.

The House Education Committee has unanimously passed a bill that prevents schools from barring students from participating in school-sponsored extracurricular activities due to unpaid school meal debts.

According to Moore, it is universally agreed upon that students should not face punishment for having a delinquent lunch account. To ensure that this issue is effectively addressed, the proposed bill aims to eliminate such penalties.

Moore’s legislation received approval from the committee, with the exception of House Education Committee Chair Kim Williams (D-Stanton), who expressed concerns about the bill’s projected annual cost of approximately $40 million.

“As a member of the Joint Finance Committee, I am well aware of our current budget situation, and I must admit that I have some concerns regarding this matter. I agree with many of the points raised about providing lunches to those who can already afford them. Personally, I believe that our tax dollars could be better allocated towards other educational necessities.”

According to Williams, she has inquired about the cost of offering free breakfast to the Department of Education. While she does not endorse this bill, she suggests supporting the expenses of students enrolled in the reduced lunch program, similar to what Shupe’s bill proposes.

Other Democratic legislators also expressed concerns about covering the cost of meals for families who can afford it.

State Representative Stell Parker Selby from Milton, along with State Representative Nnamdi Chukwuocha from Wilmington and Ed Osienski from Newark, all voted in favor of advancing the bill from committee. However, they did express concerns about the bill’s price tag.

Moore’s legislation is set to proceed to the full House for a vote once it clears the House Appropriations Committee. Similarly, Shupe’s legislation, currently not officially filed, is expected to undergo an initial hearing in the House Education Committee in the following weeks.

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