From the Motor City to Copper Country in the reaches of the Keweenaw Peninsula, 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids & Farms is making an impact across the state!
Here in Lansing, where I’m based, a new legislative class is upon us and the cogs and gears of the state budget process have already begun spinning. The governor presented her 2022 budget recommendation this past February, and we were pleased to see she supports maintaining funding for the 10 Cents a Meal program.
Coming to Groundwork Center with a background in strategic legislative engagement and government relations, I understand the importance of regular engagement with state elected officials and their staffs. It’s important to start those conversations early, since legislative priorities of new representatives fill up fast. We have already had conversations with legislators from around the state about schools and daycare centers in their respective districts that receive 10 Cents a Meal funds. (Read quotes from legislators expressing support for 10 Cents a Meal.)
When policymakers hear about the impact 10 Cents a Meal is having in their communities, it catches their curiosity, and then leads to excitement. Legislators also feel a sense of pride that schools and daycare centers in their districts are taking the initiative to support child nutrition and to purchase from local farms, particularly during the pandemic, when farmers have seen other markets dry up.
I am proud and exceedingly grateful that the core principles of 10 Cents a Meal—feeding nutritious food to children and supporting family farms—enables the program to transcend differences in political philosophy. I can attest from my years in the legislature that the policy item that can unite members from across the aisle is exceedingly rare. Additionally, with grantees from all regions of the state, it is important that we have regionally diverse legislative support behind the program as well. In this acrimonious age, it is a relief to be working on a policy issue that can find near universal acclaim.
10 Cents a Meal is a program under the Michigan Department of Education which is funded annually by the state legislature. Although the executive makes recommendations to the legislature about key budget priorities, it is the legislature that controls the purse strings of the state coffers. The budget process is analogous to a highly choreographed dance between the legislative Appropriations committees and the governor’s office.
The budget process begins in January, shortly after the new legislature convenes, with the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference. The governor presented her budget recommendation, complete with its 10 Cents a meal funding, to a joint meeting of the House and Senate appropriations committees. After that, the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees began the heavy lifting of the budget process, reviewing entire department budgets line-by-line, hearing committee testimony from experts and interest groups. 10 Cents a meal was just one single line in a document with thousands and thousands of lines.
Having worked for an Appropriations subcommittee chair and as a policy staffer working on MDA, DNR, and DEQ budgets, I can attest to the yeoman’s work that goes into the process behind the scenes. The chair generally has meeting after meeting with stakeholders and delegates priorities to his staff and the central policy staff. Subcommittee chairs receive target numbers from the chair of the main appropriations committee and make their recommendations to him and the larger committee. This is a critical time, when our efforts to educate legislators about the child nutrition and farm support benefits of 10 Cents a Meal are so essential.
This kind of work goes on from late winter through late spring, with the legislature taking breaks for Easter and Summer. And the budget is usually sent to the governor to be signed into law any time before the beginning of the new fiscal year on October 1. In recent history, legislatures liked to get the budget to the governor by June, so as to get back to the process of legislating. But please be assured, we will be there educating legislators about 10 Cents a Meal no matter how many months the budget process takes.
Gathering support from a geographically diverse group of legislators is definitely a good first step in raising awareness and support for 10 Cents a Meal. The governor’s proposed 2022 budget has 10 Cents a Meal funded at the current $2 million dollars, and we feel there is support in the legislature for even more funding to ensure that increased demand from schools and daycare centers is met.
The 10 Cents a Meal team and I look forward to continuing to engage with and educate even more legislators, key staff and members of the community to let them know more about the work being done by food service programs and early childhood education centers receiving 10 Cents a Meal grants in their districts.
We hope for their continued support of the program in the budget year ahead!
Nathan Medina is policy specialist at Groundwork. [email protected]