Lawmakers have a second chance to feed Maine’s hungry kids so they too can have a fair shot at school and in life

The state of Maine made it to the top of the list. We rank third.

Unfortunately, it’s a list that we’d rather not be on. And, frankly, shouldn’t be on.

Maine has the third highest rate of hunger in the country. That means one in four children under the age of five isn’t getting enough food, and, is considered “food insecure”.

In America, that shouldn’t be the case.

Good Morning. This is Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland.

Food, shelter, and water. The basic needs of life. And yet, more than 20,000 kids are hungry—every day—right here in Maine. And another 65,000 kids are at-risk of hunger.

Making sure people—and especially children—have enough food is a basic right. We have a responsibility to make sure that our most vulnerable get their basic needs met: Food. Shelter. Water.

Kids cannot help that they are poor

You wouldn’t think that feeding hungry kids would be a political issue—or even a partisan one. But it has been lately.

Governor LePage, vetoed my bill that would feed hungry students during the summer months, when school is not in session—and when students don’t have access to school lunches. For many students, school is the only place where they can get a meal.

Feeding students during the summer is nothing new. In fact, the first summer food program began in 1968. And, the National School Lunch Program that offers free and reduced lunch to children in poverty began twenty-two years before that…in 1946. As a country and a government, we’ve long seen the need, and accepted the responsibility, to help provide nutrition to our neediest children.

It just makes sense.

We know that hunger is one of the most severe roadblocks to learning. A child who doesn’t have enough to eat, won’t do as well in school. They’re more likely to get sick more often—and, less likely to finish high school.

My bill is simple. It reaches out to the 84,000 Maine kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch and asks the schools, who already offer summer programming like a rec program, to consider whether a summer food program is right for them.

The bill even allows schools to partner with churches or nonprofits or other community and civic organizations. In my home town of Portland, there’s a summer food program in the park—at Deering Oaks. The goal is to go to where the kids are and make it as easy as possible.

Even the food costs are paid for. The federal Summer Food Program picks up 100 percent of the food costs. But still, if a school doesn’t want to participate, they can opt out. Ultimately, it’s a local decision. All we are expecting is for the adults to have a conversation about the hungry children at their school, in their community.

The Legislature has a second shot to make this bill become law. In the coming weeks, the Legislature will vote to override Governor LePage’s veto. This is a second chance to feed our state’s hungry children so that we can make sure all of our kids, even the hungry, have the basic building blocks to go toe to toe with their classmates or in fact with anyone, anywhere.

Thank you for listening. This is Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland. Have a great weekend.