Starting from the 2022-2023 school year, every public school student in California will be able to access free meals. This is thanks to the Universal Meals Program, which gives free breakfast and lunch to all six million students regardless of their family’s income status.
This program comes right as the Child Nutrition Waivers come to an end, which gave public schools the ability to provide students with free meals during the pandemic. With the rising costs of food along with inflation, this is absolutely crucial for many families who are now not sure they can consistently provide their kids with meals, which is critical for development and growth.
According to Nicholas Filipas, the spokesperson for the California Department of Education: “Building on the historic budget investments for our California students and schools, Universal Meals is one of seven key pillars for transforming schools designed to help students heal, recover, and thrive while maximizing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to break the cycle of educational inequity, including nutrition insecurity.”
Feeding America states that about 13 million children, about 1 in 6 in America, experienced food insecurity during 2021.
Filipas continued: “With the start of the new school year, California has expanded the existing state meal mandate, and now each school day, public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools will make available at no charge/cost to all students (regardless of their individual eligibility) breakfast and lunch.”
The Universal Meals Program is a part of State Assembly Bill 130, which aims to help with funding in education. The bill also includes lunch debt forgiveness, counting towards any previous outstanding balances on student accounts.
Following California’s announcement, Maine became the second state to introduce a similar universal school meal plan.
Main Senate President Troy Jackson, the bill’s primary sponsor, said in a statement: “Maine children should be able to focus on learning math and playing with their friends, not an empty stomach. By providing free, nutritious school meals, no questions asked, we can ensure Maine kids can focus on being kids. No child should have to go to school hungry, especially not in this state.”
Hopefully more states will follow suit, as no child in any state should have to go without a nutritious breakfast and lunch, especially while at school.