Students may get grace period for school lunch payments

LIHUE — Some Hawaii public school students who have a negative balance in their lunch accounts may receive a grace period for having insufficient funds.

Senate Bill 423 prohibits denying a student a meal for the first 21 days of the first semester of a school year while the student’s application for free or reduced lunch is being processed or seven days after the student’s meal fund balance is zero or negative.

While the bill passed final reading reading on May 2 and was enrolled to Governor David Ige on May 4, there are still some questions surrounding the bill.

“It is still too early to tell what type of impact this will have on our schools since the bill passed just last week on May 2,” said Department of Education spokesperson Lindsay Chambers. “The department is working closely with the Legislature to figure out the rules and logistics of the bill, from how the 21 days will be calculated to possible overlapping with current SFSB (School Food Service Branch) protocols and procedures.”

For the 2016-2017 school year, 1,277 students on Kauai received free lunch while another 914 students received reduced lunch — a total of 2,191 students.

Chambers noted that since the individual school is ultimately responsible for the negative balances, each school has different procedures on handling accounts that don’t have sufficient funds.

The DOE supported the bill in its testimony earlier this year, where Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said that this bill will “ensure that no student shall be denied a meal for failure to pay.”

Complex-Area Superintendent Bill Arakaki told TGI Monday the intent of the bill is meant to support families by “insuring their child meals during the period when the applications are being submitted and reviewed.”

“This is a good thing,” Arakaki said.

Until the logistics are sorted out regarding the bill, Chambers said the SFSB has general guidelines to continue feeding students the first 21 days of the semester while applications are still being processed.

“We testified to this, basically to support intent of bill because it is already our guidelines,” she said.

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