In a recent move, California will offer free school meals to children. In a scenario where food insecurity and inflation are quite heavy, the Golden State will be the first state to offer the meals. From this school year, every single child will be completely eligible for free school breakfast and lunch.
And this will be irrespective of the income level of the family. One mom recently mentioned, “A lot of people like me are thankful,” said Melanie Navarrete. Navarrete, has three children, and with rising food prices she is grateful to not have to pack lunches for all of them.This entire plan will fall under the program called Universal Meals.
This is being created on the banks of the National School Lunch Program. The free school meals will also come under the School Breakfast Program, as mentioned by the California Board of Education. According to Cal Matters, close to 5.8 million students will be benefiting from this policy.
According to reports, Merced Union High School District has already initiated this program. This will also be a part of Assembly Bill 130- which is quite a landmark legislation- focusing on education finance. Gavin Newsom had given his signature to the state bill, making it law, in 2021.
One of the leaders of the program, Senator Nancy Skinner mentioned, “We know that many California children are food insecure, and if you’re hungry you cannot learn well.” Erin Tassey, the director of nutritional services for Merced Union High School District, informs: “When a student would come through a lunch line and they were considered to be a free student, it would create definitely a barrier with getting meals during the day”.
The State’s Department of Education gave a further explanation: “AB 130 establishes a California Universal Meals Program with changes to the state meal mandate and new requirements for high poverty schools to apply for a federal provision, such as the Community Eligibilty Provision or Provision 2.”
Before the program came into existence, students who came under free school meals usually belonged to a certain income cap. In 2021, the Associated Press went on to report that students belonging to a four-person household will be applicable only if the income was less than $34,000. In order to apply for reduced-price meals, one would have to make less than $48,000. Maine is in line to be the next state to implement such measures.
Mary Emerson, a nutrition director for schools, informed the Press Herald that this program could introduce some changes. According to her, she had a lot of “experience over the years walking into cafeterias and seeing kids not eating a meal.”
School meals should always be free- according to her. And this would be even more necessary considering some parents wouldn’t want their kids to eat free school lunches.