Tell your legislators: 10 Cents a Meal is good sense for kids

There’s always been a friendly rivalry between the east and west side of the state.

Sunrise or sunset side? Who has the better Great Lake?

Coastal competition aside, we all should be able to agree on doing what’s best for our kids — all kids, in every corner of the state.

When it comes to kids’ nutrition, however, that’s not currently the case.

Kids in more than half of the counties across the state — including many in the northwest Lower Peninsula — are benefiting from a great program that lawmakers have yet to expand to the northeast side of the state. It’s called 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms, and it gives school districts an incentive to purchase fresh, Michigan-grown produce for their school meal programs.

This pilot program began in the 2016 school year and has grown to include 43 counties.

For the 2020 budget year, the Michigan Legislature allocated increased funds to expand eligibility to school districts statewide, as well as child care centers, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed the funding during tense budget negotiations.

An attempt to restore the money was in the works before it got delayed as the state dealt with school closures because of COVID-19.

Finally, in July, the Legislature was able to use federal coronavirus relief dollars in ways that allowed it to maintain funding for the remainder of the budget year at the current level.

Now, the Legislature and the governor are turning their attention to the 2021 budget year, which begins Oct. 1. The expansion of 10 Cents a Meal to the entire state has been a consistent budget priority for the Michigan League for Public Policy.

It should be a priority for local parents and The Alpena News’ readers.

And it should be a priority for our elected officials as well as they tackle difficult budget decisions for the coming year.

Here’s why:

∫ The program provides a huge bang for our buck at a time when every penny counts. With 10 Cents a Meal, policymakers can stretch severely limited resources and meet the state’s unprecedented health, educational and economic needs right now for the low cost of one dime for every meal served to a Michigan child.

∫ It will boost Michigan agriculture just when the economy needs it most and strengthen the food supply chain. To date, 10 Cents a Meal has spurred increased sales for more than 160 local farms and related businesses. As mass business closures and layoffs will continue to affect virtually all sectors of the economy for some time, schools that maintain food service can provide farmers with a market for food that might otherwise go to waste.

∫ It will help children learn under challenging circumstances. Healthy food provides the nutrients kids need for growth, development and focus, and adequate nutrition is more important than ever as our children experience unprecedented upheaval in their schooling because of COVID-19.

∫ It can help increase child food security during a time of great need. Before the pandemic, one in six Michigan children experienced food insecurity. Now, referrals to food pantries top the list of basic needs Michiganders have sought. For some children, school or child care settings are the only reliable sources of regular meals, and 10 Cents a Meal can help those institutions optimize food quality to benefit all kids, regardless of family income level.

∫ Expanding the program could help address regional and racial disparities in nutrition. The proposed funding increase would expand the program statewide. That includes northern Michigan, where county-level child food insecurity rates are highest.

∫ It will help kids stay healthy during and after the pandemic. Early establishment of good eating habits promotes health and success in school and later in life, and 10 Cents a Meal helps young people improve their dietary knowledge and increase consumption of fresh produce.

∫ 10 Cents a Meal is an easy win for everyone in a tense political climate. Many partisan disagreements are sure to arise in state budget negotiations, but, with 10 Cents a Meal’s history of bipartisan support and potential to benefit all young Michiganders, expanding the program can be a point of unity during this crisis.

Michigan’s coronavirus response should focus on rebuilding for a safer, more secure future.

And who embodies the future as much as our children? At a time of such daunting uncertainty, this program with a proven track record can be a small but smart investment in Michigan’s recovery and continued prosperity.

Please join the League in urging policymakers to fund 10 Cents a Meal statewide — including Alpena-area schools and child care centers — in the 2021 budget.

Julie Cassidy is senior policy analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy.


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