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GOP lawmakers in Montana want to investigate the 2020 election - some are concerned this could weaken trust in voting; record rainfall in San Francisco Bay area; concerns about students and staff coping with the pandemic.

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Obama cautions against tribalism; House Democrats want immigration relief to be included in reconciliation; and will Trump face a subpoena from the January 6th committee?

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An all-Black Oklahoma town joins big cities in seeking reparations; a Kentucky vaccination skeptic does a 180; telehealth proves invaluable during pandemic; and spooky destinations lure tourists at Halloween.

Focus on Universal Meals, Preventing 'Lunch Shaming' as MN Students Return

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Tuesday, September 7, 2021   

MINNEAPOLIS -- More Minnesota school districts are welcoming back students this week. Because of the pandemic, schools are receiving federal aid to boost their meal services, and a new Minnesota law blocks them from acting forcibly over unpaid lunch debt.

The bipartisan provision, included in a new spending bill, seeks to end "lunch-shaming" and calls for state intervention if a violation occurs.

Leah Gardner, policy director for Hunger Solutions Minnesota, said they had been working on this issue for nearly a decade. Leading up to the pandemic, she pointed out, it was still a problem even with past incidents garnering negative attention.

"We have continued to see some practices, such as dumping kids' lunches in front of all the other students," Gardner reported.

For now, the federal government is reimbursing districts for free meals to all students, and groups like Hunger Solutions continue to press for universal lunches when things return to normal.

Gardner noted one plan calls on the state to better utilize the federal funds available for high-poverty districts to offer meals to everyone. GOP lawmakers have cited cost concerns when debating an expansion of school meal programs.

There are also calls for Congress to improve the funding formula, potentially allowing more schools to qualify for what's known as the Community Eligibility Provision, when a majority of their students are lower-income.

Colleen Moriarty, executive director for Hunger Solutions Minnesota, said the eventual goal is lunches for all students, no matter their background. She contended the past year has changed the conversation about food insecurity, and students' needs.

"If you're concerned about behavior or absenteeism, or the ability to focus, there is no greater way to reinforce the importance of being able and ready to learn than by making sure that people have the nutrition they need," Moriarty asserted.

Some states, like California and Maine, have adopted their own universal lunch programs. Responding to cost concerns cited by opponents, supporters argue in addition to reducing stigma, such a move could reduce administrative costs.

Disclosure: Hunger Solutions Minnesota contributes to our fund for reporting on Hunger/Food/Nutrition, and Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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