August 17, 2023

Back to school season is upon us! This time of year often brings back memories of shopping for school supplies, starting new schedules, uniting with old friends, and meeting new ones.  

Unfortunately, this time of year is also a time when many parents start worrying about having enough food to pack for their children’s lunches or having enough money to put into student school meal accounts. Many students start worrying about the stigma associated with participating in school meals and what will happen to them and their families if they accrue school meal debt. Teachers and school nurses across the country start packing their desk drawers with snacks, hoping to help students maintain energy and focus throughout the school day.   

This worry, fear, anxiety, and stress is unnecessary when there is a simple solution: offering free school breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of household income, as a part of the school day.  

For more than two school years, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, free school meals were available to all students through waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ensuring that students had continuous access to meals and serving them at no cost was a key component of our country’s pandemic response to mitigating spikes in hunger. It highlighted the critical role that school meals play in supporting student nutrition, health, and learning, and showed that free school meals for all is doable and the right thing to do.  

Momentum for Healthy School Meals for All is building.  

Eight states, California, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont, Michigan, and Massachusetts, have passed policies to permanently offer free school meals to all students, and Nevada has extended free school meals for all through the 2023–2024 school year. These policies will ensure that all students are hunger-free and ready to get the most out of their school day.  

The momentum that these eight state policies represent is exciting; however, children in all states should receive the benefits of free school meals for all. That is why the Food Research & Action Center has convened a National Healthy School Meals for All Coalition, representing 18 national nonprofit organizations calling on Congress to pass a nationwide free school meals for all policy.  

The coalition supports the following legislation that would establish free healthy school meals for all or move us closer to that goal by expanding and strengthening the Community Eligibility Provision

  • Universal School Meals Program Act of 2023 (S. 1568/H.R. 3204) This is a vision bill that establishes permanent free healthy school meals for all, ends lunch shaming, reimburses schools for meal debt, provides incentives for local food procurement, expands summer meal access, and expands CACFP. 
  • School Meals Expansion Act (H.R. 2567) This bill would increase the multiplier for federal reimbursement under the Community Eligibility Provision from 1.6 to 2.5, making CEP more financially viable for eligible schools and districts. 
  • No Hungry Kids in School Act (H.R. 3112) This bill would create a statewide community eligibility option. 
  • Expanding Access to School Meals Act (H.R. 3113) This bill would increase eligibility for free meals to 200 percent and expand direct certification, resulting in increased federal funding for CEP schools and better access to school meals for struggling families. 

If you are a parent, teacher, administrator, school nutrition staff member, or anyone who wants all students to be free from hunger during the school day and get the most out of the educational opportunities available to them, contact your Member of Congress and U.S. Senator and ask them to support these bills.  

Together, we can fuel our nation’s future.