The Nevada Capitol
The Legislative Interim Finance Committee on Tuesday approved $75 million in federal pandemic funding to continue providing all K-12 pupils with free breakfast and lunch during the coming school year.
They made the commitment after the federal government declined to extend the program through the 2022-23 school year.
“The funding, if approved today, will be there and every child will get a meal,” said Jennifer Ott, whose division in the Agriculture Department administers the free and reduced lunch program.
She said the ARPA funding will be offset by regular applicants to the Free and Reduced Lunch program so, if more schools get parents to apply, it will free up some of the $75 million. But she said with this funding, even if parents and school officials don’t apply, the student will still get fed.
“If the form is not filled out, the child shouldn’t suffer by not having a meal,” she said.
Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama, R-Las Vegas, objected to the plan saying it provides free lunch to those students whose families can afford to pay as well as those who can’t.
But Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, said all children should be included.
“As a kid who had free and reduced lunch many times, it’s very hard to be the kid who’s standing the free and reduced lunch line,” she said.
She and others pointed out that if parents fill out the forms more students will qualify for the regular free and reduced lunch program and the ARPA money won’t all be used to make up the difference.
“I think feeding kids is a top priority,” said Vice Chair Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas.
She was joined by Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas who said it’s an opportunity to make sure every kid gets fed.
Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, and Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, agreed saying they would support the expenditure.
“It’s a struggle to get these students back in school,” said Goicoechea, adding that making sure they aren’t hungry is important to that effort.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Hammond.
Kasama cast the only vote against the plan.
Lawmakers also approved spending $20 million to create four Crisis Stabilization Centers to relieve the burden on law enforcement, hospitals, emergency rooms and others who have to deal with people in crisis from mental health needs.
Stephanie Woodard of HHS Behavioral Health said there has been a sharp increase in demand for services during the COVID pandemic. She said the total cost is more than $506 million a year and that the centers will greatly relieve the pressure on agencies and services currently dealing with those in crisis by getting them to the services they need instead of warehousing them in places like jails that don’t have the staff to treat them.
The initial plan is for four centers, two in Las Vegas and one each in Reno and Carson City. But Woodard said they are also engaged with tribal governments across the state and working to figure out what those centers would look like in rural Nevada.
Lawmakers were told federal Medicaid officials are preparing to approve a reimbursement rate to help support the centers. After a year of operation, those centers would provide Medicaid with actual costs to adjust the reimbursement rates to pay for them.
Until those centers are up and running, she said another work program provides $10 million to support emergency services while the centers are being developed.
They approved $50 million to expand efforts to improve the lack of child care that is preventing some workers, especially mothers, from returning to work. The funding is aimed at making child care more affordable and improving accessibility.
IFC members also approved a $200 million grants program to support school districts and university campuses to address learning losses caused by two years of a pandemic that closed schools statewide. All Nevada education entities are eligible to apply for grants to help pay for tutoring, summer school, after school learning and other programs to help students catch up.
Many students were unable to keep up on their studies because they could attend in person and didn’t have access to online services. Educators say those students have fallen behind where they should be.
IFC also approved a $1.5 million project to repair the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center Museum in Carson City. The funding will strengthen the building against earthquakes. The building is made of stone.
In addition, the funding will complete an interior renovation and install high-density shelves to house and adequately protect historic documents related to the Stewart Indian School.