GOP state senator says he's never met a hungry person in Minnesota

State senators passed a bill ensuring free lunch for all students in Minnesota.

March 16, 2023, 3:34 PM

A Minnesota Republican said he opposed a bill to guarantee meals for all students because he had "yet to meet a person in Minnesota who is hungry."

State Sen. Steve Drazkowski made the comments Tuesday as he argued against HF 5, a proposal to dedicate roughly $400 million of taxpayer money to feeding the state's children.

Drazkowski, elected to the state Senate last year, pushed to use the money instead to boost proficiency levels in reading and math.

"Hunger is a relative term," he added. "I had a cereal bar for breakfast. I guess I'm hungry now."

The bill's author, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Sen. Heather Gustafson, said that in fact, nearly 275,000 Minnesota K-12 students are on free and reduced meals. Roughly one in six are "food insecure," meaning they don't know when their next meal will be available, she added, citing state figures.

"I'm a mom. I have four kids. There are a lot of years that we couldn't afford much. I would have appreciated a policy like that," she said.

"Being hungry makes learning almost impossible," she added.

PHOTO: Rep. Steve Drazkowski speaks during a news conference, July 23, 2019 St. Paul, Minn.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski speaks during a news conference, July 23, 2019 St. Paul, Minn.
Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP, FILE

Drazkowski framed the bill as a form of "socialism" that would open the door to an array of expenses he deemed unnecessary.

"[Students] will be coming to buy their socks, buy their pants, buy their shirts, their hats, maybe their winter clothing. Who knows what's next?" he said.

"We should be using this nearly half a billion dollars of the taxpayers' money to make sure we have reading proficiency happening in our schools again, math proficiency happening, science proficiency happening, and that the kids are learning," he said. "That is what our schools are for. That is what parents pay tax money for. That is what our constitution provides them: to teach them, not to feed them."

Gustafson argued that the proposed increase accounts for "less than one percent of the state's education budget."

Citing her own experience working in classrooms, she said, "As a teacher, I've had countless students come into my classroom. They're looking for food, not just for themselves but for their siblings as well."

The bill passed the state senate by a vote of 38-26.

Drazkowski's office did not immediately return requests from ABC News for comment.

Gov. Tim Walz said he would sign the legislation into law.

"As a former teacher, I know firsthand that kids can’t learn on an empty stomach. When universal school meals reaches my desk — a historic, bipartisan bill — I’ll be proud to sign it into law," Walz tweeted.

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