During the legislative session that just ended, Republicans spent a lot of time on hollow rhetoric about protecting Montana’s children – but that rhetoric was empty, and now we’re seeing the awful proof of that. Governor Greg Gianforte is refusing to accept $10 million to help feed hungry kids this summer, money that will otherwise just sit unused. And this isn’t the first time the Montana GOP has refused to act to make sure our kids have enough to eat. I would think that if there is anything we as Montanans can agree on, it is that no child should go hungry. But the governor and Republican-led legislature refuse to provide critical resources for children and families in need.
Despite the damaging effects of rising food costs and inflation on hard-working Montana families, Governor Gianforte is turning up his nose at $10 million in federal funding that could be used to feed tens of thousands of Montana kids this summer. He might be wealthy enough not to have to worry where his next meal is coming from, but too many of our fellow Montanans don’t have that luxury. And it’s not as if this money will be “saved” by the governor’s cruel choice here: that money will just go to waste if we don’t use it. That simply doesn’t make sense to me.
Sadly, the governor’s latest refusal to support Montana’s working families comes on the heels of a long line of refusals by Republicans to let children go hungry. They spent all of the legislative session striking down attempt after attempt from me and my fellow Montana Democrats to address food insecurity and feed hungry kids. As a public school teacher, I know that hungry children cannot learn, which is why I brought a bill to make sure every kid has access to healthy meals in their schools.
Republicans killed that bill, but we didn’t give up. Montana Democrats continued to fight, trying time and time again to pass legislation that would cover families’ out-of-pocket costs for school meals and direct federal funding to overwhelmed local food banks. We tried four times to expand access to school meals. And the response of our Republican colleagues? A resounding and unrelenting refusal to budge. They cared more about politics than about the kids with rumbling tummies in classrooms across this state.
This pattern of shocking callousness started last summer, when Gianforte refused to accept similar funding to the tune of $135 million. He backed down in the face of public uproar, and hungry kids got the chance to eat and their families got some breathing room as they worked to make ends meet. But it took a loud and lasting outcry from Montanans to force him to do the right thing. It looks like we’re going to have to do the same thing again this year to make the governor act like he cares about working families.
Montana Republican officials have shown time and again that they would rather fight meaningless culture wars than improve the daily lives of kids in their communities. Montana children and families deserve better. I encourage everyone to reach out to the governor’s office and tell him to stop playing politics on the backs of hungry kids.
Melissa Romano is a Democratic state representative from Helena.
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