Steve Drazkowski said on the floor of the Senate that “hunger” was a “relative term”.
“I have yet to meet a person in Minnesota that is hungry,” he said in remarks before voting on the legislation.
“I have yet to meet a person in Minnesota that says they don’t have access to enough food to eat.”
“Now, I should say that hunger is a relative term,” added Drazkowski. “I had a cereal bar for breakfast. I guess I’m hungry now.”
The lawmaker’s remarks came as the Minnesota state senate on Tuesday approved a bill that makes lunch and breakfast free for school students.
The bill was approved 38-26 in the senate and sent back to the state house for its final stamp of approval on some language changes before it goes to Democratic governor Tim Walz for his signature, reported the Associated Press.
“Being hungry makes learning almost impossible,” said Democratic senator Heather Gustafson, the lead author of the bill and a teacher.
“This is a bill that will ensure every student – K through 12 in Minnesota – is going to get the food they need while they’re at school.”
She added that nearly 275,000 Minnesota students now get free or reduced-price lunches.
According to the lawmaker, roughly one in six children are considered “food insecure”, meaning they don’t know when they will get their next meal.
Mr Drazkowski’s comments have drawn backlash from observers and commentators.
Robert Maguire, who works for the non-profit Citizens for Ethics, wrote: “More than 1 in 10 children in Minnesota live in food insecure homes, meaning the household doesn’t have enough food for each family member to lead a healthy life. If Drazkowski isn’t meeting them, though, I guess we don’t have to care.”
Commentator Jamil Smith said: “There may be no conspicuous feature of modern Republicanism than its intellectual laziness. Case in point. It is essential to everything from their cruelty – as demonstrated here – to their overall unwillingness to use government power to actually aid the people who most need it.”
With pandemic-era benefits lapsing and food prices soaring, around 9 million children nationwide are food insecure, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Mr Drazkowski, however, said there was no such thing as a free lunch.
“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” he said.
“The people of Minnesota are paying in this bill over $400 million in taxes to pay for the lunches of kids, the majority of which are already having their lunches paid for by their families now.”
Additional reporting by agencies
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