BOSTON APRIL 15th -- On Wednesday April 13th, the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee released a robust FY’23 budget proposal. Amongst an abundance of targeted investments in childcare, housing, mental health and the workforce, the House included $110 million dollars to extend universal school meals for another full year for all Massachusetts public school students. Meaning that contingent on its inclusion in the final budget, all students at public schools in Massachusetts will continue to receive breakfast and lunch at no charge through the next summer, 2023. Since March of 2020, students across the country have enjoyed universal school meals as part of the relief provided by Congress. However, the federal waivers that have allowed universal school meals are set to expire in June; and there is little indication that Congress will extend the waivers.
Representative Andy X. Vargas (D-Haverhill) a staunch anti-hunger advocate, has been the main champion in the House for universal school meals and including an extension in the budget. He is the House sponsor of H.714 An Act relative to universal school meals which would make providing universal school meals permanent in the state, and has been pushing the House to extend universal school meals in the absence of action from Congress. A robust coalition of anti-hunger advocates, school nutrition directors, and cafeteria staff all led by Project Bread have been a driving force for statewide advocacy.
“Throughout the past two school years, universal free school meals have proved what we already knew — school meals are an essential part of public education. The fact that so many districts saw school meal participation increase, in some cases as high as 40%, shows the demand and need to continue this program. In the face of federal inaction, I’m grateful that the MA House is stepping up to break down stigma and feed all kids.” -Representative Andy X. Vargas (D-Haverhill)
This comes after a series of other wins for Vargas on hunger, with the passage his Breakfast After the Bell legislation last session, and his student nutrition bill earlier this session.
With 1 in 11 Massachusetts children facing hunger, and 27% of food insecure children not being eligible for free or reduced lunch, universal school meals has been critical for Massachusetts families during the pandemic.