WV House passes Feed to Achieve Act - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

WV House passes Feed to Achieve Act after 2 hours of discussion

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The House of Delegates approved a measure Friday evening that would provide free breakfast and lunches to public schoolchildren across the state.

The Feed to Achieve Act, Senate Bill 663, came from the Senate's new Select Committee on Children and Poverty. It aims to encourage private donations to school board-established funds or nonprofits to pay for the meals. The bill also recognizes physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle and allows the county school boards to use the funds for other programs such as summer lunch programs, community gardens or farm-to-school initiatives.

But although delegates agree it would be difficult to deny food to a hungry children, members of the House of Delegates debated for nearly two hours on the ins and outs of the measure.

"There's no such thing as a free lunch," Delegate Ray Canterbury, R-Greenbrier, reiterated several times while speaking to the bill. He said his parents taught him to work hard and to not expect handouts from the government or anyone else.

"I think what we're doing is undermining work ethic and teaching students they don't have to work hard," he said before adding, "I think it would be a good idea if perhaps the kids work for their lunches."

That comment drew several emotional responses from delegates who support the bill, including Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha. Poore grew up on the West Side of Charleston and took advantage of free and reduced lunch while she was in school.

"I'm offended that anybody in this body dare say a child has to work for a meal," she said. "There is nothing at all about this bill that talks about entitlement and for anyone to ever paint that picture, I guarantee you that you are trying to mislead people."

Canterbury's comments about free lunches got under the skin of other delegates, many of whom aired their displeasure through their Twitter accounts.

Delegate Jeff Eldridge, D-Lincoln, took note and referred to some of their comments when he spoke to the bill.

"When voting, if you haven't taken a free lunch while you've been here the last 59 days, then vote red," he said in reference to the many lunches and receptions provided during the legislative session.

But some delegates said the fact that the state government would run the program gives them pause. Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, said in a Facebook message that an organization in his district runs a similar program without government intervention.

"We all want the kids fed, but it doesn't need to be the government and it doesn't have to," Howell said in the message. "It works in Mineral County, I don't see why it can't in others."

And Delegate John McCuskey, R-Kanawha, said he would reluctantly support the bill, but he doesn't think it gets to the root of the problem.

"What have we done to get their parents out of poverty?" he asked, noting 25 percent of children in West Virginia live in a house where the income falls below the poverty rate.

At Ranson Elementary, 100 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, said Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson.

"This starts with a basic need—making lunches available to all," she said.

Although the bill is not perfect, said Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, it is something that can be used as a building block. He noted that he, like many West Virginians, grows his own garden and gives food away to his neighbors. When when times get hard, he said, it is unlike West Virginians to turn away anyone in need, especially a child.

"Somebody check their pulse," he said. "You better check your pulse and make sure you're still living if these things don't touch you."

The bill passed 94-4. Because the House made amendments, the bill must go back to the Senate before it completes legislative action.