With Congress failing to extend several of the government’s pandemic-related resources, many households will find themselves struggling to cope with the prolonged effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The end of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service waivers in June this year–which previously allowed all students to receive free school meals–means that families’ number one source of free food during the pandemic will end this summer.
While we continue to push for permanent universal school meals legislation, Massachusetts has the opportunity right now to extend free school meals for a year and to help families during this period of recovery.
“An Act Relative to Universal School Meals,” also referred to as the School Meals for All bill, was filed by our lead sponsors, Representative Andy Vargas and Senator Sal DiDomenico in 2021. If passed, it will establish universal school meals in Massachusetts permanently. In just its first session, this idea has gained a lot of support from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in the legislature. Currently over half of the House of Representatives and the half of the Senate are cosponsors of this bill.
This bill was heard in the Joint Committee on Education in January. While we believe this needs to be a permanent solution, As we wait to see what happens next with this bill, we have the opportunity to achieve a one-year extension through the state budget.
This past April, we made a giant step toward School Meals for All: the Massachusetts House of Representatives included $110 million in their Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal to fund Universal School Meals for the next academic year.
With the loss of USDA waivers, the Massachusetts state legislature has an opportunity to step up and feed children. In 2019, 26% of food insecure children did not qualify for free or reduced-price meals based on their household income. Extending universal school meals for a year will mean that students will continue to receive free breakfast and lunch at school through school year 2022-2023.
This is currently our best shot at ensuring that students have no gap in access to free school meals in the upcoming school year. And with this extension, we have another year to continue working to permanently extend school meals for all. We know School Meals for All will be an investment in Massachusetts: the US budget of $20 billion for school meals yields $39.5 billion of benefits, almost doubling the investment. If School Meals for All gets funded for the next school year, we’ll understand how important it is to make sure all students have access to these free meals in the years to come.
The Feed Kids coalition is focused on making sure the legislature’s final budget includes funding for a one-year extension of School Meals for All. Will you join us and let your state senator and state representative know we need to invest in feeding our students?