Senator Sal DiDomenico and his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate recently voted to pass Senate Bill 298, An Act to promote student nutrition, which would ensure that more children in Massachusetts have access to nutritious school meals. This legislation would require schools and districts where a majority of students are low-income to enroll in federal programs—known as the Community Eligibility Provision and Provision 2—that allow them to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. In addition to providing universal meals, these programs reduce administrative burdens for schools.
Assistant Majority Leader Sal DiDomenico, a longtime champion for food security and the Commonwealth’s children and families, spoke on the floor of the Senate in support of the bill during the Senate’s debate of the bill. “We live in a wealthy state but there are haves and have nots. There are students in our communities whose last meal was lunch the day before. We have parents in food lines making tough choices between feeding their kids, paying for prescriptions, and paying rent”, DiDomenico stated. “We can have the best schools and teachers but if our kids come to school hungry, they are not ready to learn.”
The legislation minimizes families’ meal debt by requiring school districts to maximize federal revenues and directing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to assist them in doing so. When students do accrue debt, it requires school districts to determine whether they are eligible for free- or reduced-price meals.
Finally, An Act to promote student nutrition prohibits schools from targeting students who carry meal-related debt with punitive practices such as withholding report cards and transcripts, preventing students from graduating or walking at graduation, barring students from participating in no-fee extracurricular events like field trips, or throwing a child’s hot meal away and replacing it with an inferior meal.
This legislation returns to the House of Representatives for further action before heading to the Governor’s desk.