Jennifer Ramo
New Mexico Appleseed

Santa Fe, N.M., March 20, 2017 — New Mexico could become the first state in the nation to pass legislation that protects children from punishment in the school cafeteria because their family has not paid their school meal debt. The Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights (SB374) passed the Senate in a 30-7 vote earlier this month, and passed the state House of Representatives unanimously last week.

“Children whose parents or caregivers owe money for school lunch will no longer have to miss meals or face public embarrassment in front of their peers,” said Jennifer Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed. “No child should be forced to wipe down cafeteria tables or throw away a meal because of a debt. We’re urging Governor Martinez to make New Mexico a leader in the fight against child hunger by signing this first-of-its-kind legislation.”

“This bill draws a line in the sand between the student and the unpaid school meal fees that their parents or guardians owe, oftentimes because they cannot afford to pay on time,” continued Ramo. “Many children count on school meals for the nutrition they need to be able to learn and thrive in the classroom.”

The Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights takes three important steps to address the issue, which has gained national attention: it prevents student meal debt by making sure that it’s easy for low-income families to apply for free meals, that students are automatically signed up if possible, and that schools contact families who owe money; it ends practices that embarrass students, like making them wipe down tables if they owe money, or throw out a meal if they can’t pay; and it requires schools to serve every child a healthy meal.

“All school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program are now required to develop a policy on addressing unpaid school meal fees. States can develop a statewide policy to ensure fairness for all their students,” said Crystal FitzSimons, director of school and out-of-school-time programs at the Food Research & Action Center, the nation’s leading anti-hunger advocacy organization. “New Mexico’s bill protects the needs of students to have access to healthy meals at school, while ensuring that school administrators are able to qualify eligible students for free school meals. Other states should follow New Mexico’s lead.”

The Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights was spearheaded by New Mexico Appleseed, a non-partisan, nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to ending poverty in New Mexico. State Senators Michael Padilla (D) and Linda Lopez (D) co-sponsored the bill.

To learn more about New Mexico Appleseed’s efforts to end hunger in the state, visit

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