Families with kids in Massachusetts are struggling now more than ever to keep food on the table. Inflation and food costs remain high. In addition, the continued expiration of COVID-related programs, like increased SNAP allotments, has had a critical impact on the finances and health of families across the Commonwealth, increasing their susceptibility to high living costs and affordability issues.
During this time of continued economic uncertainty, the School Meals for All program, passed by the legislature in the state budget, has been a lifeline for families during this school year. Janice Watt, the food service director for Foxboro schools, expressed the gruesome reality for many families in an article by The Sun Chronicle. Watt and other members of the Foxboro school community feared the damage that would ensue without School Meals for All.
“Parents who are not eligible for meal benefits are still struggling with rent, utilities and food,” Watt said. “They have to pick and choose what bill they are going to pay. It is a stressor for middle class parents, understandably, as they want and need to provide for their children.”
In October 2022, the program succeeded in increasing school lunch participation by 80,000 more than in October 2019 in schools not previously serving universal free meals. These students were able to access school meals regardless of their socioeconomic status. Normalizing School Meals for All de-stigmatises food insecurity since students are able to eat without worrying about cost or what others may assume about their household’s income.
The proven success of this program calls for continued support. 30,000 more students ate school lunch daily than we originally projected–an incredible success! This is why more funding is urgently needed to continue breaking barriers for food insecure children in schools this school year. On January 31st, the Healey administration took on this challenge as they filed for $65M in additional supplemental funding to ensure the program could remain in place through the end of the school year. Thanks to this action and the advocacy of many, the supplemental funding needed to ensure the program continues intact through the end of the school year was passed by the House and Senate.
While we work to ensure that School Meals For All will be continued through this school year, we are simultaneously working to secure funding for the 2023-2024 school year and ultimately to make this program permanent. Unfortunately Governor Healey’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget did not include funds needed to continue the program through next year. However, there is hope! The following language was included in the Executive Summary:
“An upcoming supplemental budget will also commit to funding another year of the universal school meals program with Transitional Escrow funds.”
This means another supplemental budget will be proposed soon to continue School Meals for All in the next school year. The funding will be sourced by Transitional Escrow Funds, which are funds that would otherwise sit in the reserve.
We eagerly anticipate the Governor’s new supplemental funding proposal for next school year, as this is an incredible show of the Administration’s commitment to the program and to fighting hunger in Massachusetts. We look forward to working with them to continue this program. The Feed Kids Coalition continues to advocate for passage of An Act Relative to Universal School Meals to make this program permanent.
Only with your advocacy and support can we ensure kids are always fed in school and ready to learn without worry of cost or stigma. We need you to take action now by thanking Governor Healey and the legislature for sending a powerful message that Massachusetts refuses to tolerate childhood hunger.