In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the League strongly believes a program called 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms, which gives school districts an incentive to purchase Michigan-grown produce, is more important than ever.
This pilot program has grown since it began in the 2016 school year to include 43 Michigan counties. For the 2020 budget year, the Legislature allocated increased funds to expand eligibility to school districts statewide as well as childcare centers, but the Governor vetoed this funding. An attempt to restore the money was delayed as the state dealt with school closures due to COVID-19. Finally, in July, the Legislature was able to use federal coronavirus relief dollars in ways that allowed it to maintain funding for the remainder of the budget year at the current level.
Now, the Legislature and the Governor are turning their attention to the 2021 budget year, which begins October 1. The expansion of 10 Cents a Meal to the entire state has been a consistent budget priority for us. Here’s why you should urge our elected officials now to make it a priority as well as they tackle difficult budget decisions for the coming year:
- The program provides a huge bang for our buck at a time when every penny counts.
Our policymakers have to stretch severely limited resources to meet unprecedented health, educational and economic needs right now, and 10 Cents a Meal serves all three purposes for the low cost of one dime for every meal served to a Michigan child.
- It will boost Michigan agriculture just when the economy needs it most and strengthen the food supply chain.
To date, 10 Cents a Meal has spurred increased sales for more than 160 local farms and related businesses, creating jobs in many areas of the state—including underserved, low-income communities. As mass business closures and layoffs will continue to affect virtually all sectors of the economy for some time, even as business activity resumes, schools that maintain food service can provide farmers with a market for food that might otherwise go to waste.
- It will help children learn under challenging circumstances.
Healthy food provides the nutrients kids need for growth, development and focus. As our children experience unprecedented upheaval in their schooling due to COVID-19, adequate nutrition is especially important to making the most of their educational time.
- It can help increase child food security during a time of great need.
Before the pandemic, 1 in 6 Michigan children experienced food insecurity. Now, referrals to food pantries top the list of basic needs Michiganders have sought as sudden income losses have accompanied the greatest jump in food prices in nearly half a century. Even when the economy is doing well, there are some children for whom school or child care settings are the only reliable sources of regular meals. 10 Cents a Meal can help these institutions optimize food quality to benefit all kids.
- Expanding the program could help address regional and racial disparities in nutrition.
The proposed funding increase would expand the program statewide. This includes northern Michigan, where county-level child food insecurity rates are highest, and the three southeast Michigan counties where the state’s children are concentrated and people of color make up a larger share of the population than in other regions of the state.
- It will help kids stay healthy during and after the pandemic.
Early establishment of good eating habits promotes health and success in school and later in life. 10 Cents a Meal helps young people improve their dietary knowledge and increase consumption of fresh produce. As the pandemic shows, it’s critical that people have proper nutrition to boost their immune systems and prevent pre-existing health conditions.
- 10 Cents a Meal is an easy win for everyone in a tense political climate.
Partisanship has been growing for decades and COVID-19 has brought to the forefront some of our state’s deepest political, regional and racial divisions. Many disagreements are sure to arise in state budget negotiations, but with 10 Cents a Meal’s history of bipartisan support and potential to benefit all young Michiganders, expanding the program can be a point of unity during this crisis.
Michigan’s coronavirus response should focus on rebuilding for a safer, more secure future. And who embodies the future as much as our children? At a time of such daunting uncertainty, this program with a proven track record can be a small but smart investment in Michigan’s recovery and continued prosperity. Please click here to join us in urging the state Legislature and the Governor to fund 10 Cents a Meal statewide, including childcare centers, in the 2021 budget. To see who else has signed this letter, click here – and encourage others to sign on.