A coalition of organizations geared toward ending hunger in Minnesota lauded the success of its ambitious agenda following the close of the 2014 legislative session Monday—alongside the lawmakers who enabled it.
Ranging from a minimum wage increase that will enable workers to easily feed their families to ensuring school lunches for all children, all will work toward assisting the one in 10 state residents that struggle to find food on a daily basis.
“For years now we’ve been working on a regular basis designing the agenda, cooperating, and really living the words of Sen. Paul Wellstone: ‘We all do better when we all do better.’” said Colleen Moriarty, Executive Director of Hunger Solutions. The organization is part of Minnesota Partners to End Hunger, a network of two dozen organizations who spearheaded the effort.
Among the successes.
- In March 2013, the Legislature voted to support a bill adding $750,000 in additional funding for the Minnesota Food Shelf Program.
- This year the Legislature increased the Minimum Wage to $9.50 an hour by 2016, with indexing of up to 2.5 percent starting in 2018 that can be suspended if the economy is poor.
- “We all know that when you raise the minimum wage, you’re creating a rising floor that lifts all jobs and all workers higher in this economy,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who sponsored the House bill that Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law last month.
- Minnesota schools are ordered and funded to expand free school lunch, covering the 61,000 children whose families fall into the gap between paying full-price for lunch and receiving it for free. The law also eliminates the use of stigmatizing hand stamps or stickers for children with unpaid lunch bills.
- A 5 percent funding increase for home and community based services including home-delivered meals for seniors and people with disabilities will enable them to serve more residents. It also gives a wage to home and community workers.
- A $2 million grant for Farm to Food Shelf, an initiative to move surplus edible agricultural crops and commodities to food shelves statewide. Between 200 and 300 million pounds of edible crops are either not harvested or harvested but not sold each year in Minnesota.
Moriarty said the coalition’s 2015 legislative priorities include:
- Assisting more seniors and rural Minnesotans by expanding the state’s mobile food shelf system. Minnesota currently has a dozen mobile food shelves.
- Increasing SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits to include Farmer’s Markets with incentives for fresh produce
- Advocate for universal free breakfast at school for students in all grades.
- Expand access to summer feeding programs
Moriarty said the coalition is also looking at other programs to ensure Minnesota kids are fed during the summer. In Ohio, bus drivers to travel their regular routes in the summertime to drop off meals to children waiting at stops rather than picking them up for school.
“There are innovative ways around the country and we need to continue to look at those,” she said.