February 13

Maine House overrides veto of expanded summer food program

Gov. Paul LePage said the proposal was an unfunded mandate on local school districts, while Democrats said the bill would address student hunger.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The House of Representatives on Thursday voted to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would increase the number of Maine schoolchildren who can get food over the summer through a federal program

The bill, L.D. 1353, requires schools that hold summer activities, and where more than half the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, to offer the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Services Program, which reimburses school districts for the entire cost of the food.

Schools can opt out if they can’t afford additional costs associated with providing the lunches, or can’t find another organization, such as a church or nonprofit, to act as a partner.

The bill is sponsored by Democratic Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland. The House voted 92-45 on Thursday to override the veto. The Senate voted 25-10 on Tuesday to do the same. A veto override requires a two-thirds majority of lawmakers voting.

“This is a victory for Maine students,” Alfond said in a statement. “The Legislature stood together in helping potentially thousands of hungry students all across Maine during the summer time.”

In his veto message, LePage said he vetoed the bill because it would impose a mandate on districts without any money to pay for it.

Last year, the Maine School Management Association, which represents school districts, was neutral on the proposal, but did raise concerns about the unfunded mandate. The group noted the opt-out provision, but added, “the procedure seems designed to paint school districts as the villains,” because it requires districts to notify all parents in the district.

Several House Republicans who voted against the measure said it would burden schools.

“Republicans fully support the summer school lunch program, but participation in it should be up to local communities,” said House Republican leader Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport.

Democrats said the proposal would help ensure that hungry school children would get food if they participate in summer school programs.

The summer food program is currently accessible to about 14,000 children in the state – of the 84,000 eligible for free and reduced lunch, according to a news release from Democratic lawmakers. It said about 20 percent of children in Maine don’t always get enough to eat.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:smistler@pressherald.comTwitter: @stevemistler
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