Free school meals bill sees changes in committee, focusing on those at or below 200% of poverty level

Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 3:41 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KUMV) - Changes have been made to a house bill looking to provide free meals to students in North Dakota.

House Bill 1491 was originally written to provide $89.5 million from the state’s general fund towards lunches for all students. It will now provide $6 million for students that apply for the free/reduced meal program and are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Sponsor Lauriebeth Hager, D-Fargo, said this compromise was made to give the bill a better chance at making it to the governor’s desk.

“I’m a little bit disappointed but if we can help any child or any family receive that added benefit of a free lunch, I am happy about that,” said Hager.

Federally, free meals are provided for students at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level while reduced meals are provided at or below 185 percent.

A five-member household with a total income of less than $70,280 would be eligible for free meals if the bill were to pass. A qualifying four-member household would need to make less than $60,000.

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction estimates they would need more than $7.1 million to cover all meals for those who qualify under the bill.

The bill was given a “do pass” recommendation in the education committee. A hearing in the appropriations committee is scheduled for Wednesday.