Toledo Legal News - News Summer intervention school lunch program approved by Ohio House approval

 

A bill that would allow Ohio school facilities to feed hungry children who rely on school meals during the summer break was passed by members of the House of Representatives and awaits Senate consideration.

House Bill 80 is aimed at removing any remaining barriers to access to healthy food for Ohio school children during the summer, according to one of the sponsors of the legislation.

Republican Rep. Sarah LaTourette of Chesterland told fellow lawmakers during committee hearings that only 1 in 10 of Ohio's low-income children, who participate in the National School Lunch Program, take advantage of a summer nutrition program.

"This is due, in large part, to some school districts' need to opt out of the summer food requirement because their boards determine that they cannot comply for financial reasons," the lawmaker said. "This legislation provides that a district may charge the summer food service program a fee, within reason, for the use of the school's facilities.

"This fee would only be permitted to cover custodial services, charges for the use of school equipment and a prorated share of utilities."

HB 80 would allow a school district that opts out of the summer program to permit an approved summer food service program sponsor to use district facilities in a school attendance area where at least half of the students are eligible for free lunches.

Citing the Food Research and Action Center, joint sponsor of the bill, Democrat Rep. Kent Smith of Euclid, noted that Ohio ranks the 11th worst food hardship rate - tied with North Carolina - among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

"If there is some good news in the report, it would be the following," he said. "One of the five recommendations to reduce food hardship, poverty and hunger is this: Expand Nutrition Programs.

"That is exactly what HB 80 would do."

Ohio Legislative Service Commission analysis of the measure explained the Ohio Department of Education's role in the summer food program.

Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, the program is administered by the state education department, which approves sponsor applications, conducts trainings for sponsors, monitors program operations throughout the state, and processes reimbursement payments to sponsors based on a set rate per meal served.

Sponsors may be public or private nonprofit groups and may include organizations such as government entities, churches, universities, and camps, the analysis detailed.

HB 80 would require the state education department to post in a prominent location on its website a list of approved program sponsors from which school districts can choose.

In Fiscal Year 2016, the federal reimbursement payments totaled nearly $11.2 million for summer food sponsor programs at 1,800 sites throughout the state and operated by a total of 199 sponsors.

HB 80 was referred to Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee for member consideration after unanimous passage by House members.

Hearings had not been scheduled as of publication.

KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

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