As Minnesota state senators debated a bill to provide free school meals to students, Sen. Steve Drazkowski (R) took to the floor Tuesday to lodge an emphatic complaint.
“I have yet to meet a person in Minnesota that says they don’t have access to enough food to eat,” Drazkowski repeated.
A clip of Drazkowski’s comments circulated on social media, where observers were quick to note food insecurity in the state. There were 5.5 million visits to Minnesotan food pantries in 2022, a record high and an increase of 1.9 million visits from the previous year, according to the nonprofit Hunger Solutions Minnesota.
“If he’s never met anyone who’s hungry, he’s not looking,” Colleen Moriarty, the nonprofit’s executive director, told The Washington Post. “His eyes may not be open.”
Drazkowski did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.
The senator’s remarks came during a third reading for a bill by Sen. Heather Gustafson (D) that would use state funds to provide free school meals to all Minnesota students.
Gustafson said that, according to the Minnesota Department of Education, around 18 percent of the state’s students qualify for free and reduced meals but do not receive them. One in six Minnesotan children experience food insecurity, she added.
“I’m a mom,” Gustafson said in the floor session. “I have four kids. There were a lot of years that we couldn’t afford much. I would have appreciated a policy like that.”
Critics acknowledged a food insecurity issue in the state but questioned the cost of the bill — around $200 million per year — and argued that schools had higher-priority needs, such as funding for special education, mental health support and maintenance.
Drazkowski also argued that the money should be spent addressing learning issues, but the rest of his objections took a different tone. He referred to Minnesota Democrats a “socialist party,” said he’d never met a hungry Minnesotan and called the bill “a solution in search of a need.”
“Hunger is a relative term,” Drazkowski said at one point. “I had a cereal bar for breakfast, I guess I’m hungry now.”
Gustafson, a former schoolteacher, said that the cost of the bill was a small percentage of the state’s education fund and that addressing food insecurity would help students learn. She said in her closing remarks that she worried for her students.
“I also worry about a lot of people in the chamber who don’t seem to understand what socialism is,” she added, to chuckles from the floor.
The bill ultimately passed 38-26 in the Senate, with four Republicans joining the Democratic majority in voting yes. Gov. Tim Walz (D) said on Tuesday he would be “proud to sign it into law,” according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
Moriarty of Hunger Solutions Minnesota celebrated the bill’s passage and called it a historic win for under-resourced families in the state.
“It was such a joyful day after working on this issue for 17 years,” Moriarty said. “I wasn’t going to let the uninformed comments that [Drazkowski] made ruin the day.”