The state of Massachusetts recently extended free school meals for the 2022-2023 school year. This guarantees that all students in grades K-12 can access school meals at no additional cost to their families.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a one-year extension of School Meals for All, allocating US$110 million to help address childhood hunger.
“This action will ensure that, despite federal inaction, 400,000 students will continue to have access to free school meals,” Erin McAleer, CEO for Project Bread, tells Food Tank. Project Bread is one of the nonprofit organizations advocating for universal free meals in Massachusetts, where one in eleven children face hunger, according to Feeding America.
“A hungry student can’t learn,” McAleer states. “Outside of school, many families are struggling with the impacts of inflation and high costs of things like housing and healthcare, which often means less money to spend on food for their family.”
McAleer explains that more than one quarter of food insecure households in Massachusetts fail to qualify for free or reduced-price meals. This leaves many children hungry, emphasizing the need for universal free school meals.
In addition to ensuring access to school meals, the upcoming state budget will direct funding to support several of Project Bread’s programs. These include their FoodSource Hotline, which helps to connect families with food assistance and federal nutrition programs, and Child Nutrition Outreach Program to help schools and community programs increase access to school and summer meals.
The budget will also help to support an application portal to create a streamlined process for people applying for benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Healthy Incentives Program, which increases the purchasing power of households that receive SNAP benefits when they buy fruits and vegetables.
While McAleer is excited by the extension of free school meals, she hopes to see the change become permanent. “We are committed to passing legislation that would permanently allow all students access to free school meals. We are thrilled about the one-year extension of free school meals, but we also know it is critical to make this a permanent reality.”
Project Bread is also calling for more states to take action. “We believe all states should make this investment in kids, and in fact, that the federal government should pass legislation to make universal free school meals [available] nationally.”
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Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture