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House narrowly votes down bill expanding free and reduced-price lunch program • New Hampshire Bulletin

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The House voted to shelve a bill Thursday that would have increased how many students are eligible for reduced-price lunch in public school, after House Speaker Sherman Packard cast a tie-breaking vote to table it.

House Bill 1212 would raise the income limit at which a family qualifies for reduced-price lunch for their child from 185 percent of the federal poverty level to 350 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that would raise the total household income cap from $57,720 to $109,200.

Under the bill, the state would be required to pick up the costs of the reduced-price lunches for any families making 185 percent to 350 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government reimburses schools only for students from families making up to 185 percent of the poverty level.

Those costs would come out of the state’s Education Trust Fund, which presently spends about $1 billion a year for adequacy funds to school districts and the education freedom accounts program.

After the House deadlocked, 191-191, Packard voted to cast the deciding vote to lay the bill on the table.

Proponents, who include the health advocacy organization New Futures and the American Heart Association of New Hampshire, said the bill would give more students access to nutritious food, which could reduce child hunger and improve performance in school.

“Time and again, research has shown that free- or reduced-price school lunch has improved health and educational outcomes for students and families in need,” said Jake Berry, vice president of policy for New Futures, in written testimony to the House earlier this year. 

But Republican opponents argued that there was no evidence that children in the higher income brackets were being denied meals because of an inability to pay. And they said that if students are unable to pay, the Legislature should help them by easing the school lunch debt. 

“School districts that are unable to collect funds owed for school meals would be best served by legislation that allows them to receive funds from the education trust fund to cover any uncollectible school meals debt,” wrote Rep. Daniel Popovici-Muller, a Windham Republican, in remarks in the House calendar. “… Instead, HB 1212 proposes a budget-breaking expansion of the federal lunch program, asking the New Hampshire taxpayers to pay $50 – $75 million or more a year (including hiring at least three new DOE employees) to address a hunger problem that nobody even showed exists in New Hampshire public schools.” 

The tabling of the bill effectively kills it; Thursday is “Crossover Day,” the last day on which HB 1212 can be passed and sent over to the Senate. Passing it in the future would require a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules.

The bill was tabled months after the House passed a bill raising the income eligibility for the state’s education freedom accounts from 300 percent of the federal poverty level to 350 percent. Democrats have criticized that increase, which would also draw on funds in the Education Trust Fund, as being too expensive; Republicans have argued that people above the current cap could benefit from the program. 



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