Policy Priorities

End Student Meal Debt

An Act to Promote Student Nutrition (S.2664)

End Student Meal Debt

School meals are an important part of the school day for children. A hungry child cannot learn. To that end, we believe school meals school be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial situation.

Schools with high enough levels of need are eligible to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) to serve universal free school meals to all students. Otherwise, school meal fees are based on a household’s income determined either by participation in other assistance programs, like SNAP, or through a paper application. Eligiblity for free or reduced-price school meals:


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Families whose income is below 130 percent of the poverty level

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Families who income is 130 to 185 percent of the poverty level

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All other families. (These meals are still partially reimbursed by the federal government.)

For those students who have to pay meal fees are unable to do so schools may absorb the cost, serve an alternative meal such as a cheese sandwich, or deny the student a meal. When students are unable to pay both schools and families must deal with the burden of unpaid school meal debt.

An Act to Promote Student Nutrition (S.2664) addresses both the root causes of unpaid meal debt as well as the impact unpaid meal debt has on students. The bill would:

1. Encourages schools to adopt universal school meals through the Community Eligibility Provision or another federal option.

2. Eliminate the reduced-price fee so all families under 185 percent of poverty level would receive free school meals

3. Maximizing federal reimbursement for school meals to reduce burden on schools and families

We advocate that students be removed from the from meal debt conversation to avoid unintentional shame or stigma!