California passed the nation’s first free school lunch program for every student regardless of income.
This $54 million investment would cover lunches for the next school year, impacting 6.2 million students.
Lawmakers are pushing for universal free school meals nationwide to fight childhood hunger.
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Giving every student the option to eat lunch for free is the latest way California is choosing to make use of its significant budget surplus.
In the beginning of July, California Gov. Gavin Newsom launched the Universal School Meals Program, which invests $54 million to give 6.2 million public school students in the state a free school lunch for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, along with $650 million in state meal reimbursements for 2022-2023 to cover the costs of offering breakfast and lunch for all students.
This is the nation’s first free school lunch program, and eligibility for the program is not limited to household income.
“Focusing on student mental health and wellness and critical supports like universal school meals and community schools that provide wraparound programs for families will be essential for facilitating a safe return to in-person learning for the students who have suffered so much during the pandemic,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony said in a statement on Friday.
Before the pandemic, a family of four had to make less than $34,000 a year to qualify for free school lunch, and $48,000 to qualify for reduced-price meals. With those caps, over 3.6 million students qualified for free lunch, but it didn’t necessarily take into account the high cost of living in California.
Insider previously reported that California had an unexpected $75 billion budget surplus, much of which came from income tax revenue. Newsom has been using that money to establish a universal basic income program prioritized toward pregnant people and those aging out of the foster system, along with a record $12 billion investment to combat homelessness, among other things.
The idea of universal school meals is something lawmakers have been pushing for nationwide.
Several cities, like Chicago and Boston, already offer universal school meals, and in May, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, as well as Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, introduced the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021, which would permanently provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack to all school children, regardless of income, while eliminating school meal debt.
“In the richest country in the world, it is an outrage that millions of children struggle with hunger every day,” Sanders said in a statement. “Every child deserves a quality education free of hunger. What we’ve seen during this pandemic is that a universal approach to school meals works. We cannot go backwards.”
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Source:: Business Insider
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