Statewide: February 2, 2011 Archive
Some Minnesota families who rely on free or reduced-price lunch during the school year struggle to feed their children -- or find enough nutritious food -- when their kids aren't in school.
To help meet the need, the Minnesota Department of Education is looking for help feeding low-income kids during the summer. Department officials have put out a call for organizations willing to sponsor the 2011 Summer Food Service Program.
The United States Department of Agriculture funds the summer program, which in 2010 provided over 1.7 million free meals in Minnesota, with 107 sponsors and 475 sites.
"It's hard to learn and play on an empty stomach," state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said. "The Summer Food Service Program guarantees our low-income children will not lose access to the nutritious meals they receive during the regular school year."
Cassellius encouraged schools, park and recreation programs, faith-based organizations, and other nonprofit organizations that provide educational and recreational activities for children during the summer to offer meals through the program. The food program reimburses the sponsors, and provides them with training and technical assistance.
State education officials say there are many underserved areas in need of a sponsor, particularly in greater Minnesota.
Interested schools and nonprofit organizations can learn more on the MDE website, as well as fill out an interest survey. Education officials are holding a 2011 Summer Meals information Meeting on Thursday, February 24, from 1 - 3 p.m. at the MDE in Roseville.
Julie Siple reports on hunger and related issues for Minnesota Public Radio News. MPR is a partner in the Hunger-Free Minnesota project, which helps fund her reporting.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has long used farming as a management tool. On some wildlife refuges crops are planted as food for waterfowl and other wildlife. In Minnesota a common use of farming is to prepare land before restoring it to native vegetation.
Later today on the MPR News program All Things Considered, I'll have a story about an environmental review of the use of genetically modified crops on national wildlife refuges.
Wildlife managers say farming a piece of land for three or four years is the best way to kill all of the weeds that might be established on land that's been laying dormant. That gives native plants a better chance at survival.
Managers like to allow farmers to use genetically modified corn or soybeans. They say that means a single herbicide, Roundup, is used instead of other longer lasting herbicides.
Some national environmental groups are questioning the practice.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Midwest Region has an environmental assessment of the practice up for public comment for the next couple of weeks.
By Stephanie Hemphill
Facing a $6.2 billion budget gap, some state legislators are eyeing a tempting pot of money in the state's Legacy funding, the $548 million in sales tax money dedicated by a constitutional amendment to preserving Minnesota's natural resource and arts and cultural heritage.
But diverting some of the money to help balance the budget could be difficult. The language in the constitutional amendment clearly states that "the dedicated money under this section must supplement traditional sources of funding for these purposes and may not be used as a substitute."
The amendment's wording "ties the hands of the Legislature," said state Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, who originally opposed it. He said the citizen committees that recommend projects for funding "have to understand that the bottom line decisions rest with the Legislature."
State Sen. Claire Robling, R, Jordan, has asked for a close study of the legal issues involved. As legislators make cuts in essential services like nursing homes, education, and the courts, Minnesotans may think differently about reserving money for clean water and the environment, said Robling, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
"I don't know if there will be reasonable, calm heads prevailing in understanding why we have to do what we do, or if there will be special interest groups that will be very defensive of their areas," Robling she said.
Robling said it's entirely possible backers of Legacy money will file a lawsuit, but she wants to avoid prompting a lawsuit the state would lose, so she intends to approach the issue very cautiously.
Legislators more directly involved in the Legacy funding process say they're confident the money will be spent strictly as required in the Constitution.
State Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, expects some legislators will try to "blur the lines," by using Legacy arts money to fill holes in public school programs, for example. But Urdahl, chairman of the House Legacy Funding committee, said he intends to stick closely to the constitutional requirement that Legacy money cannot substitute for traditional sources of funding.
Urdahl predicts that -- just as in the two previous sessions -- the Legislature will make few if any changes in the recommendations of the Lessard-Sames Outdoor Heritage Council.
John Tuma, a lobbyist for Conservation Minnesota, one of the chief backers of the amendment campaign, is among those speaking in committee meetings and trying to educate new legislators about the amendment. He points out that Minnesota spends only 1 or 2 percent of its entire budget on natural resources.
Tuma said legislators are only beginning to realize the enormity of the budget shortfall problem.
"I think in the end they'll recognize that they'll be spending a lot of time trying to find a few pennies here in the couch, and that the fight isn't work it," he said. "They really have to focus on the bigger problems."
Reporter Stephanie Hemphill covers the environment for MPR News.