Included in their FY23 state budget proposal, was $110 million to extend free school meals statewide through the 2022-23 academic year.
This critical funding will provide a glidepath for students, families, and schools as the federal universal school meals program comes to an end on June 30th. This is particularly important as food insecurity continues to rise in Massachusetts, with 1 in 5 households with children and 1 in 3 households of color with children struggling to afford enough food. With Congressional action to extend the waivers becoming increasingly unlikely, we applaud the Massachusetts House of Representatives for taking this action, and ensuring that 400,000 kids in our state will not lose access to this critical program next school year.
“Families across the Commonwealth have been hit hard by the pandemic, and free school meals have been a lifeline to many. This extension in the House budget means another year of supporting children’s personal and academic success, ensuring positive school meal experiences where all children can access proper nutrition, and funding our hard-working school nutrition departments who have worked unendingly the last two years to keep kids fed”, says Erin McAleer, President and CEO of Project Bread. “We are thankful to our partners in the House of Representatives, particularly Representative Vargas, who has long been an advocate for feeding children in Massachusetts, as well as Speaker Mariano, House Ways and Means Chair Michlewitz and Vice Chair Ferrante, and Education Committee Chair Peisch for their leadership.”
School Meals for All provided at the federal level since the start of the pandemic have been the number one source of free food for families living with food insecurity. The program’s success is reflected in the 39% increase in school lunch participation for students whose schools had not previously offered free school meals. The loss of this resource would mean a return to the stigma and cost barriers that kept too many students from accessing the nutrition they need at school, and to the system in which 1 in 4 food insecure students did not qualify for support.
“What investment could possibly be more urgent than investing in the health of our kids?” says McAleer. “We’ve seen during the pandemic that it’s possible to expand access to school meals for the benefit of all children. When schools offer universal school meals, administrative burdens, stigma and meal debt are eliminated and participation increases – a win-win for students, families, schools and communities at large.”
The House’s proposed budget is a big step toward fighting hunger in Massachusetts. Project Bread's next step, along with the Feed Kids Coalition leading the campaign to make school meals for all permenant in MA, is to make sure the State Senate’s proposal in May matches what the House has already offered.
Project Bread thanks the House of Representatives for their partnership and urges them to maintain this provision through the budget process. We also urge the Massachusetts Senate to follow suit in their subsequent budget proposal as Massachusetts families continue to face food insecurity at staggering numbers. School Meals for All is a critical step in the fight to end childhood hunger in the Commonwealth.
The Feed Kids Coalition—led by Project Bread—and bill sponsors Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Andy Vargas are leading the campaign for School Meals For All.
Learn more about our work to make free school meals for all permenant in Massachusetts and what you can do to make the Feed Kids Campaign a succss for Massachusetts kids!