A $140,000 expenditure sparked quite a debate in the legislature.
Lawmakers have advanced LB 1090 and its companion appropriations bill that would provide grants to equip more agencies to participate in the $2.3 million federally funded summer lunch program for poor children.
Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege told colleagues there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
“We’re overboard in our society on making it too easy for things to be free that really aren’t free,” Carlson stated during floor debate.
Carlson echoed the sentiment of many senators who withheld their vote on the bill and its companion bill, which appropriates the money. Some suggested the federal government would some day eliminate the program, sticking the state with the bill.
The bill would provide 80 grants to agencies in high-need areas of Nebraska. Preference will be given to agencies that provide educational or physical enrichment programs. Sen. Norm Wallman of Cortland sponsors the bill. He argued that too many Nebraska school-age children struggle through the summer, not knowing where their next meal will come from.
The $140,000 will be distributed as one-time grants to buy refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers or other equipment to bring kitchens up to standards to participate in the federal program. The grants would go to agencies such as the local YMCA, Boys and Girls Club or others able to serve a large number of children. Children eligible for the meals are those receiving free or reduced-price lunches during the school year.
Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus first raised questions about the bill, stating it underscored a change in philosophy. He said parents had once been responsible for feeding their children and that there were consequences for not fulfilling that responsibility. Schumacher stated the general drift away from that philosophy seems to indicate it is now society’s responsibility.
Supporters objected to that characterization, stating that the economic downturn forced parents into such low-paying jobs they couldn’t feed their children three nutritional meals a day. Others said that rejecting the bill would only punish children not responsible for the poverty in which they live.
Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm told colleagues he couldn’t believe the direction the debate took.
“I’m astonished and, I guess, somewhat ashamed that we spend more time talking about feeding children with only $140,000 than we do about incenting businesses with millions and millions of dollars,” Haar told the body.
The bill must clear another round of debate before it can be drafted into final form.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]