March 11

Senate overrides LePage veto to expand summer food program for schoolchildren

The bill would require certain schools to offer a federal program, which reimburses districts for the cost of food.

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

The state Senate voted Tuesday to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would increase the number of Maine schoolchildren who can get food over the summer through a federal program.

The bill requires schools that hold activities in the summer and where more than half the students qualify for free or reduced lunch to offer the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Services Program, which reimburses school districts for the entire cost of the food.

Schools can opt out of the program if they cannot afford the remaining cost and cannot find another organization, such as a church or nonprofit group, to act as a partner, according to a news release from the office of Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland.

LePage has said he vetoed the bill because it would impose a mandate on districts without any money to pay for it.

Two-thirds of the Maine House of Representatives would have to vote to override the bill for it to become law. Ericka Dodge, spokeswoman for the Senate president’s office, said she expects that vote to happen on Thursday.

The summer food program is currently accessible to about 14,000 children in the state – out of the 84,000 who are eligible for free and reduced lunch, the news release said.

It said about 20 percent of children in Maine, which has the third-highest rate of hunger in the country, don’t always have enough to eat and, according to the USDA, the problem worsens in the summer.

“When children don’t get enough nutritious food, they fall behind physically, cognitively, academically, emotionally and socially,” said Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth.

The Senate voted 25 to 10 to override the veto, with the 19 Democratic senators joined by five Republicans and one independent in support of the bill, according to the news release.

The vote marked the seventh time the Senate has overridden a veto by LePage, the news release said.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:lbridgers@pressherald.comTwitter: @lesliebridgers

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