Great news! Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new policy change that would allow 3,000 more school districts to provide free school meals to all their students. That means as many as 5 million more students could access free lunch and breakfast.
There are lots of benefits to universal free school meals. Kids get the food and nutrition they need, which helps them do better in school. Working parents get a break from having to cover the costs of those meals. School staff don’t have to deal with the paperwork involved in students applying for free meals. And low-income children don’t have to face the stigma that some associate with free meals since everyone can get them.
This positive change is the result of the USDA lowering the threshold of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. CEP previously allowed school districts to provide free meals for all students in schools where 40% or more come from families receiving SNAP benefits or other income-based assistance. Under the policy change, the eligibility threshold is lowered to 25% of the student population.
AFSC has long worked to increase food access to all people. Earlier this year, we reached out to supporters like you to submit public comments on this issue to the federal government as it considered this change.
Thank you to the hundreds of people who responded and took the time to advocate for young people!
School meals “is what kept my 12 siblings and I from going hungry.”
We heard from teachers and other educators who saw how hunger hurt their students. We heard from volunteers at food pantries who’ve seen need rise among their neighbors in recent years. We heard firsthand accounts from people—including seniors—about the difference free school meals made for them as kids. And we heard from many, many more individuals who simply share our belief that all people should have the resources they need to be healthy and thrive.
Here are excerpts from just some of the comments submitted by people across the U.S.
“I have been a teacher for 37 years, and am still teaching at age 75. I see many students who come to school hungry. I have been providing snacks and granola bars and protein bars to students out of my own funds for as long as I have been teaching. … Hungry students cannot learn. … Let's work to see that all our kids get the nourishment they need to be able to learn.” – Wisconsin
“I was once the recipient of free meals at school. This is what kept my 12 siblings and I from going hungry towards the end of the month when money was nonexistent. I remember being so hungry in the morning because I didn't get to eat dinner. Getting to school meant I got plenty to eat so that I could actually focus in class. I ended the cycle of poverty for my family. My one and only child goes to school fed and ready for the day. He gets home to a hot meal and relaxation time. However, this isn't the case for millions of children to this day.” - Texas
“It is unconscionable that so many children in one of the wealthiest countries in the world face food insecurity, and yet, they do. … Increasing access and affordability of school lunches is a must: It is our duty to protect the most vulnerable, and I think feeding children who are hungry should be an easy ‘yes’ for anyone with a conscience.” – Tennessee
“I live in a resort community where housing, food and gasoline are all priced higher than our nearest urban area. Many parents work 2 to 3 jobs each to keep their families healthy, clothed and fed. More than 250 families receive food bags from a local nonprofit to help stretch their food budget over the weekend. Knowing their child can receive lunch (and even breakfast) every school day will be extremely helpful.” – Colorado
“As a school counselor, I have seen firsthand the importance of nutrition and a student’s ability to access the opportunities provided at school. During the pandemic, the expansion of the school meal program allowing all students free meals was amazing. Such a small amount of money, when considering the entire federal budget, but such enormous gains. No child needed to be hungry. No child was excluded because their family didn’t meet a certain criteria. All children had access to food, every school day. There are so many adverse impacts on children we struggle to abate. Access to daily nutrition is a simple problem to solve.” – New Hampshire
Every child deserves to learn in a healthy and supportive environment where their basic needs are met. Public testimonies like these—and the advocacy of thousands of people across the U.S.—have made this victory possible. Soon, many more kids will be getting free school meals to ensure they have the nutrition they need to thrive in school and beyond.
Thank you for your support!