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The Scroll

The Student News Site of Fargo North High School

The Scroll

The Scroll

ND senators rejecting free school meals

Photo taken by Leyla Arechigo
North students eat their lunch in the commons.

Earlier this spring, the North Dakota senate made a decision that would impact the lives of students, mainly those in grade school. It would impact students who already struggle with food insecurity and has the potential to increase the number of students with food insecurity.
To refresh your memory, food insecurity is the inability to have consistent access to food, or the inability to have access to safe and nutritious foods. You might ask ‘why is this relevant to this article?’ if you’ve read the title. Well, it is for a few reasons. In general, it isn’t a good thing for anybody to have the inability to have access to healthy and nutritious food – everybody should be able to have access to that. Sadly, that isn’t the case in the United States of America. As of 2023, 34 million people struggle with food insecurity– 42,290 people in North Dakota alone are currently facing hunger. According to Feeding America, 1 in 13 children face hunger in North Dakota, totaling a little over 13,000 kids.
Problems that food insecurity can cause consist of a multitude of chronic health conditions. According to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), people who experience food insecurity also have a greater chance of developing health conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, mental health disorders, and other chronic diseases.
You might wonder where I’m going with this, but I promise you that I’m getting there soon. On Mar. 27, 2023, the North Dakota senate rejected House Bill No. 1491. But what does that mean? 1491 is a bill that would have allowed grants to go to schools that would help students receive free school meals. It would have allowed universal access to school meals—free of charge—helping lower-income students. As of November 2022, about 26.4 percent of Fargo North students are enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.
However, obviously, the North Dakota senate didn’t believe that it is their responsibility to help their younger citizens. Senator Mike Wobbema, who voted against it, said: “I can understand kids going hungry, but is that really the problem of the school district? Is that the problem of the state of North Dakota? It’s really the problem of parents being negligent with their kids.”
This reflects a larger issue. Not only did they reject a bill that would help children eat and succeed, they believe that it is not their responsibility to help them. Some would argue that it is because they can’t spare that large sum of money. However, the following Thursday, they passed a bill to raise state employee’s meal budget, because they need more money for their lunches. The reason was that “inflation costs have made meals more expensive,” according to Republican Assistant Majority Leader Jerry Klein in an interview with InForum. Unsurprisingly, he was one of 24 voters who voted no to passing Bill 1491. So, they can afford to raise their meal budget, but not that of students? Senator Kathy Hogan agrees with the absurdity of the situation, saying “How can we vote for ourselves when we can’t vote for children?” in an interview with InForum.
If you can’t afford to feed the children due to inflation raising food prices, but are still able to raise your meal budgets – then you need to make a choice. Either you stay with the meal budget you have, so both students and senators don’t get an option with increased meal budgets. Or you suck it up and also give money for students to eat as much as you.
House Bill 1491 would have helped families that are living paycheck-to-paycheck, but are making too much money to qualify for free and reduced meals, forcing them to pay the lunch fee. It was meant to dedicate around $6 million dollars over the next two years to students K-12 whose income was less than double the federal poverty level – expanding the qualifications needed to qualify for the program. Especially since COVID-19, more households became food insecure due to the economy crashing.
In comparison to other states, such as Massachusetts, North Dakota is falling behind. Massachusetts allowed for a new budget for school lunches due to the extra 4 percent tax on incomes above $1 million. The extra tax is called the Fair Share Amendment which generates an extra $1 billion for the state, $224 million will be allocated towards K-12 programs like school lunches. Eight other states have also passed similar laws: Minnesota, Maine, Vermont, California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and New Mexico have all passed or made bills that give students, no matter their income, access to free lunch.
Overall, the North Dakota Senate’s decision to reject this bill earlier this spring has far-reaching implications for the state’s students and will worsen the already serious issue of food insecurity. Food insecurity, as previously stated, is a grave concern affecting millions of Americans, including a significant number in North Dakota, especially children, who are one of the most vulnerable populations in the world. The rejection of a bill that aimed to provide universal access to free school meals not only underscores a lack of commitment to addressing this crisis but also raises questions about the state’s priorities. Hopefully, one day, the bill will be brought up again and a single changed mind can help these kids.

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About the Contributor
Hi! My name is Leyla, or Leyaunna depending on if I'm in trouble or not. I am a writer for the Fargo North Scroll! I really like cats and different types of music, and I also work at Blackbird Woodfire (best pizza around!!!). I really enjoy writing album reviews of my favorite artists - even if nobody else cares about my opinion,  I do. I also like writing about more serious topics that I believe need more recognition to bring awareness to important things happening in the modern-day world. I also really like Cheez-Its <3.
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