Special to the Independent
Senator Sal DiDomenico has once again joined forces with anti-hunger organization Project Bread in sponsoring new legislation to provide free school meals to all children in the Commonwealth. SD519/HD1161, An Act relative to universal school meals, would allow every student who wants or needs a school breakfast or lunch to receive it—at no cost to their family and with no requirement to sign up or provide income or other information. Just as no student is required to pay fees at public schools when they enter the classroom, there would be no financial barrier in the school cafeteria.
Senator DiDomenico partnered with State Representative Andy Vargas, his former co-sponsor of Breakfast After the Bell legislation, in filing this legislation to provide universal schools meals. Last week, the legislative duo joined with Project Bread and the Feed Kids Campaign– a state-level legislative campaign comprised of the most influential and dedicated anti-hunger partners in the state– to officially launch the campaign, announce their newly filed bill, and emphasize the need for this critical legislation.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, too many in our Commonwealth were struggling to meet their most basic needs. Today, the COVID crisis has shed a stark light on the state of hunger in Massachusetts, especially for kids, with twenty percent of households with children being food insecure. That is unconscionable,” said DiDomenico. “We have a moral responsibility to take immediate action to end childhood hunger in Massachusetts, and we simply cannot do so without providing universal school meals to every child, free of charge.”
Right now, 1 in 5 Massachusetts families with kids is hungry, and 27 percent of children experiencing food insecurity in Massachusetts are not eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. However, as a result of flexibilities granted in response to the pandemic, every student in Massachusetts currently has access to free school meals. The barrier presented by cost and paperwork was temporarily removed at the federal level because this crisis put a spotlight on the need to ensure the right to the most basic of necessities—food—for all kids. Consequently, for the past 10 months, thousands more Massachusetts children and teens have been able to get free breakfast and lunch at hundreds of meal sites across the Commonwealth.
Despite this important step forward, without state-level legislation in place, there is a possibility that barriers to school meals will return once the waivers expire post-pandemic. To keep school meals accessible for all students, Senator DiDomenico, Representative Vargas, and the Feed Kids Coalition joined forces seeking a bold solution to end childhood hunger by ensuring that every student receives the nutrition they need while they are in school.
“Our priority in Massachusetts, must be to feed our kids, full stop, and School Meals for All will do that,” says Erin McAleer, CEO of Project Bread. “Now more than ever, we need to be intentional about meeting the basic needs of students. We’ve seen during the pandemic that it’s possible to expand access to school meals for the benefit of all children. Every child and every community is better off when all students are nourished and ready to learn. Massachusetts has the opportunity right now, to invest in the health and future of our kids, and to lead the nation in providing School Meals for All. It’s a necessary step to solving hunger permanently.”
This is the first legislative session this bill has been filed. More information about the bill and the Feed Kids Campaign can be found at the FeedKidsMa.org.