The state legislature completed action Saturday on the Feed to Achieve Act. The state Senate approved the changes the House of Delegates made to the bill and sent it to the governor.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. John Unger, told fellow senators Sat. the goal to provide meals for all school children is not a handout but an attempt to improve economic development.
“It is economic development,” Unger said. “It allows funds to be utilized to go into the local markets and buy produce from local farmers and use that produce for the purpose of nutrition in the schools.”
The bill sets up a framework for county school boards and community groups to feed all students. It would allow counties the option of setting up nonprofit organizations to help pay for those programs using community donated dollars.
Unger says the bill is neither an unfunded mandate nor in any way takes the responsibility away from parents.
“The ages of birth and eight-years-old is a critical time in a child’s development. If they are undernourished they deteriorate into other problems,” Unger said. “What attracts companies the most to West Virginia is a workforce that’s not on drugs or disability. If you don’t have that companies will not locate in West Virginia.
The bill sparked a lively debate in the House Friday night. Greenbrier County Del. Ray Canterbury suggested students could be asked to work for the food.
That generated several emotional responses.
“I cannot believe that anybody in this body would say a 1st grader, a 2nd grader, a 3rd grader, a 4th grader or a 5th grader has to labor before they could eat,” said Kanawha County Delegate Meshea Poore.
Poore said any West Virginian should be ashamed to suggest that a kid would not be able to go to school just to learn, but would also have to work.
The debate would continue for nearly 90 minutes as delegate after delegate stood up to make their voice heard.
House Majority Leader Brent Boggs was in favor of the bill and he couldn’t believe that this conversation was even taking place.
“It is absolutely pathetic that in a country as wealthy as this country is, that we’re talking about whether we should feed kids or not,” said Boggs.
Boggs said this topic goes behind just providing food to kids, it’s about education as well.
“It’s not a matter of a free lunch and it’s not a matter of a handout,” said Boggs. “Kids can’t learn if they’re hungry.”
Kanawha County Delegate Suzette Raines voted for the bill, but wanted to make each member realize that this could get expensive down the road.
“None of us would ever deny a hungry child a meal, but please be aware everyone that we may be writing check, a very large check, and know that we’re going to have to be able to pay for that one day,” said Raines.
Raines pointed to the fact that funding has recently been cut to senior citizen in-home meal services in the state and raised the concern of not wanting the same to happen to the Feed to Achieve program down the road.
“If we set up this massive food program for the students, it’s going to be very difficult, nor would anyone want to take that away,” said Raines.
The House passed the bill 89-9. Poore said it’s a good move.
“This is the right step, we are moving West Virginia forward,” said Poore. “Whether you’re Republican, whether you’re Democrat, we are moving West Virginia forward.”