New ballot measure to offer nutritious meals for kids in public schools, free

Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 7:06 PM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - A new ballot measure is on the table for the upcoming November elections. The Healthy School Meals for All (HSMA) campaign aims to help kids in public schools receive healthy, nutritious meals for free. It got started by the anti-hunger advocates, which included a farmer, rancher, school nutrition director, anti-hunger leaders, and other supporters who wanted to let voters know about the campaign. They held a meeting on Thursday, August 18, to discuss the campaign and why voters should pass it.

Legislators originally reviewed the Healthy School Meals for All issue but turned it down when they felt there was insufficient money in the state to fund the measure. So they denied it from passing and instead put it on a ballot through House Bill (HB) 1414 as a referred measure to let voters decide in the upcoming November election.

“We’ve seen more students eating in the last two years with School Meals For All in place,” said Dan Sharp, District 51 (D51) Food & Nutrition Services Director in Grand Junction. Sharp mentioned that they serve 4,000 more meals daily and see the difference in the kid’s attitudes regarding healthy foods compared to processed foods.

“More than 60,000 kids in the state cannot afford school meals but do not qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and 2 out of every 5 Colorado families struggle to put food on the table,” said Ashley Wheeland, Policy Director for Hunger Free Colorado. In addition, she states that when kids go hungry, it affects their academic performance and long-term development suffers.

Dean Vidal, a rural La Plata County farmer, mentions that for farmers and local producers, passing the measure will help their communities and generate extra income. He also states that provisions in the program can pay fairly for local produce.

If voters were to pass the ballot measure, it would provide access to free, nutritious school meals to all Colorado public school students. In addition, any schools participating in the program will get reimbursed for complimentary breakfast and lunches. However, it can lead to the following question for the taxpayers, how will this program be funded if it were to pass?

Current laws in the state consider a family of three that makes more than $29,999 per year “too rich” to qualify for free school meals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, temporary aid made all school meals accessible last year. However, with current inflation, the demand for free school meals climbed higher, and the temporary assistance has expired.

The program, if passed, will be funded by limiting state income tax deductions for the top 3% of Colorado income earners, those who make over $300,000 a year. For the remaining who earn less than $300,000, taxes will not be affected by the measure. It also does not affect federal taxes of any kind for any Colorado household, regardless of income.

The program is estimated to cost a minimum of $50 million. However, it has a voluntary component for schools that could impact the cost to the state. Any revenue collected over and above the program’s cost, estimated at $100 million beginning in 2023-2024, would be returned to the general fund. Revenue generated by the Healthy School Meals for All ballot measure would be exempt from the TABOR cap.