Legislative Update #9 - Meals

It has been a busy week in the House, and we are back spending most of our time in our committee rooms on Senate bills. I was also fortunate to spend some time with the House Committee on Commerce touring Downtown St. Albans, the old Energizer plant, and a nice tour of Northwest Career and Technical Center.

Our tour began at The Traveled Cup for coffee where we met with the mayor and the City Manager. They showed us the benefits of our TIF district projects and the progress the City has made in our downtown. We looked at our Federal Street projects and newest developments. Our House Commerce members were wondering how the rest of the state could follow the City of St. Albans’ lead on revitalizing our downtowns.

The Energizer plant has some great working space that could host several businesses that would help our entire community including the recent news that Beta Technologies is interested in expanding their operations. Both St. Albans City and St. Albans Town are in a great position over the next few decades for potential growth and economic prosperity.

The main visit was our trip to the Northwest Career and Technical Center where we met a host of great teachers, staff, and students who showed us the great things the tech center offer. Legislators in the State House understand the need to expand and focus on career technical centers across the state and that is why we have included a lot of state and federal funds to expand workforce development and education through these centers. I was really impressed by what the programs offered, the teachers I spoke with, and the opportunities our students have.

In House Education we have spent some time working on some Senate bills including S.287 which will deal with student weights and tax rates across the state as well as S.283 our annual miscellaneous Education bill. The bill we have spent the most time on is S.100 – universal school meals.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the Federal government has provided universal school lunch and breakfast to every student regardless of their parent’s income. Typically, the Federal government does provide grants to give free or reduced lunch to students who have a family household income that are well below the poverty line. This new program would extend free lunch and breakfast to every student in Vermont schools.

My first hesitation with this bill was the cost and how we would fund this. As I have noted before the total cost of this program could cost between $24 and $50 million a year. The funding sources would be an expansion on the sales tax on candy, an enactment of an excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages, and a tax on cloud-based software. I could not consider raising any new taxes at a time where our state is spending $8.1 billion in our budget – the largest budget in our state’s history.

After long debate and compromise we have worked out a bill that would make this a one-year program allowing schools to provide free lunch and breakfast to all students for one more year, repealing this on July 1, 2023. This gives us time to see how many students would participate and wouldn’t add any new taxes this year. This is still being worked on and would need a stop in Ways & Means and still has a long path to passing, so please stay tuned.

Again, I am very happy with all the feedback I have heard over this session, and I will continue to urge everyone to please reach out any time at [email protected] with any questions, comments, or concerns. This has truly been quite an honor serving the people of St. Albans and I look forward to hearing from everyone.

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