She said the schools have faced some staffing challenges and supply chain issues with production orders, but the schools are working hard to address the challenges.

“This is something that was in schools for two and a half years because of federal coronavirus waivers, and then it went away,” Colleen McDonough, Michigan director of government relations for the American Heart Association, told Bridge. “This leaves everyone in limbo.”

Now, McDonough said lawmakers should codify the state’s program and build on the momentum to ensure future students have the same access to universal school meals.

Sen. John Damos, R-Harbor Springs and co-sponsor, said during the committee meeting that he supports the bill because if a child is hungry, they probably aren’t learning and all the other money the state invests in education may not be worth it. He. She.

Additionally, he said he wants to eliminate the stigma associated with school meals.

“If it means two rich kids get a few extra meals, then it’s worth it to me,” he said. “But they also pay into the system, so it helps everyone.”

Several people testified in support of the bill Tuesday, but lawmakers were divided on whether the Legislature should consider setting aside money to allow private schools to participate in universal school meals.

Brian Broderick, executive director of the Michigan Association of Nonpublic Schools, and Paul Stankowitz of the Michigan Catholic Conference urged lawmakers to consider adding private schools to the policy.

Stankowitz said he understands the program’s funding for private schools will use state general fund money rather than school aid funding.

Broderick told Bridge that as of spring 2023, 177 of the more than 500 nonpublic schools will participate in the federal National School Lunch Program. There are 55 schools that participate in both the breakfast and lunch programs, meaning they would be eligible for the universal meal program if the Legislature expands it to include nonpublic schools.

“I think it’s important that the senators and everyone who testified pointed out that making sure (all) schoolchildren are fed is a priority for the state,” Broderick said. “To step back and say, ‘We can’t do this because we don’t have a general fund to do it,’ doesn’t make sense to me.”

Sen. Christine McDonald Rivett, D-DeBay, said she is “hopeful that we can figure out how to make this work.”

Damos said he supports providing comprehensive meals to private schools if possible.

“The whole goal of this bill is to remove family income from the entire discussion,” he said.

It is up to the Appropriations Committee to allocate General Fund money, and that discussion should take place separately from discussions of passing Senate Bill 500, Polehanke said.

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