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  • Writer's pictureOffice of Rep. Vargas

Lawmakers push for universal free school meals

“We have to make sure that school districts that reach that 50% threshold enroll in the program so the feds could pick up the bill for those students,” he said. s are considering a plan that would make the changes permanen


A bipartisan proposal filed for consideration in the upcoming two-year session would make breakfast and lunch free for all public school students, regardless of their family’s income. The move would make permanent a pandemic-related policy that provided free school meals for students in the past three years.

Backers of the plan say it would help alleviate food insecurity and provide much needed economic relief for families who are paying more for groceries and other basic necessities amid inflation and other financial pressures.

“Families have come to rely on these meals, both for the nutritional value and for financial relief,” state Rep. Andy Vargas, D-Haverhill, the lead sponsor of the bill. “If you calculate the cost of school lunches, it could save families up to $1,200 a year, per kid.”

Vargas said it would also improve academic outcomes, especially for low-income students, with recent studies showing food insecurity can affect a child’s physical and mental health, academic achievement and future economic prosperity, all of which have broader societal effects.

The proposal would require the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to pay for the meals, though it’s not clear how much that would cost the state annually. The state receives federal funding for high-poverty districts to provide free or reduced-price meals, which Vargas said would offset the cost.

A nearly $53 billion state budget approved last July included $110 million to provide free school lunches for all students in the coming school year.’

Vargas said supporters of the changes are waiting on data from the state on how many students took advantage of the free meals in the previous school year.

A law passed in 2021 requires school districts where 50% or more of the students are low-income to apply for a federal program that pays for universal free school meals, which Vargas said would help offset the state’s costs going forward.

“We have to make sure that school districts that reach that 50% threshold enroll in the program so the feds could pick up the bill for those students,” he said.

Supporters of the proposal are expected to gather at the Statehouse on Thursday for a rally calling on legislative leaders to advance the legislation. A similar proposal has been filed in the Senate. Read the rest of the Eagle Tribune article here.


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