Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
03/16/2010 09:00 AM Senate STATE AFFAIRS
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HJR 24-FED. SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM/MILITARY 9:13:26 AM CHAIR MENARD announced the first order of business to come before the committee would be HJR 24. REPRESENTATIVE JAY RAMRAS, sponsor of HJR 24, said he and Senator Paskvan both represent Ft. Wainwright, which has had two active duty deployments of 4,000 men and women in the last three years. Many military families live off base. The current calculation for the reduced breakfast or the free school lunch program takes the off base housing allowance into account in addition to a family's income. Sometimes the computation will pop an enlisted family out of the ability to qualify for a free or reduced lunch program. HJR 24 brings this to the attention of Congress. Other states are interested in this issue as well and Alaska can lead by example. 9:16:17 AM He added that he visited Arctic Light Elementary on Ft. Wainwright which is a school that enjoys 100% employment of at least one parent per student by virtue of being on a military base. Over 90 percent of the students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. This is indicative of the peculiar relationship that the U.S. has with its military: applauding and recognizing service but not rewarding that service monetarily. Other incentives keep the military robust. CHAIR MENARD said she appreciates how zealous Representative Ramras has been for lunch programs. SENATOR PASKVAN commented that this is a part of the big problem of too many kids going to school hungry. HJR 24 would help aid one segment of such kids. 9:18:31 AM CHAIR MENARD opened public testimony. DEAN HAMBURG, administrator, school lunch program, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, and public policy and legislative chair, Alaska School Nutrition Association, said the USDA supplies Alaska with support for almost 10 million school meals each school year. Many students receiving free and reduced meals are children of military families. Presently, funding provided to military families to support off base housing must be counted as income when that family applies for free or reduced price USDA meals. The requirement to report housing income sometimes disqualifies military families from school breakfast and lunch programs. Eliminating the requirement to report the housing allowance as income when applying for free or reduced price meals, would offer appropriate and meaningful support to Alaska military families. HJR 24 acts as a message of to change current application criteria. 9:21:21 AM AMY ROUSE, director of nutrition services, Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, said since the military has chosen to privatize base and post housing, all families now receive a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). According to USDA guidance, if the family lives on any military installation, their income figure excludes BAH. If the family lives in the private housing market, renting or owning, BAH has to be included in their income calculation. For many families, this is the difference between approval and denial of meal benefits. Ms. Rouse shared a story about a mother asking why her children were denied meal benefits while her friends' children received free meals. Their husbands were the same rank, on the same pay with the same BAH. Her friend's family lives on Ft. Wainwright and her family lives in Fairbanks. Ms. Rouse had to explain the required inclusion of the family's BAH as income when living off base. The mother said this was extremely unfair as post housing was not available when her family moved to Fairbanks. MS. ROUSE said she often fields questions about why children in one family qualify for free or reduced school meals and others do not. Many military families feel they are being punished for living in the private housing market. Families should be treated the same and income calculated the same regardless of where the family resides. 9:24:40 AM CHAIR MENARD closed public testimony. SENATOR MEYER moved to report HJR 24 from committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal note(s). There being no objection, the motion carried.