No child should go hungry because an adult in their life cannot afford school meals. Healthy School Meals for All helps children get the nutrition they need to succeed in school.
Prior to the pandemic, child nutrition programs aimed to feed children with limited resources, a barrage of paperwork and forms, and layering of reimbursements that divide children into tiers--full price, reduced-price, and free.
Beginning in March 2020, COVID-19 forced the closure of schools and childcare providers nationwide, resulting in school meal feeding models dramatically changing. When schools closed and went virtual or to a hybrid model, children were no longer able to access the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast program. The USDA began issuing child nutrition waivers throughout the 2020-2021 school year (note - the program was extended with an updated expiration date of June 30, 2022), providing safe, healthy meals free of charge to all students regardless of financial need, and alleviating financial burden to families and school districts. The new system didn’t require paperwork to show family income and ended the harmful stigmas of being labeled a “free” or “reduced” meal student. The program also eliminated student meal debt, bolstered school nutrition budgets, and allowed school nutrition professionals to focus on producing healthy meals rather than becoming de facto bill collectors (SNA’s 2019 School Nutrition Trends Report revealed 75% of districts had unpaid meal debt and the amount of debt has grown substantially in recent years.
In preparation for the June 2022 expiration date to end the universal free program, Sen. Sanders, Rep. Omar, Sen. Gillibrand, and Rep. Moore announced legislation to expand on the success of the universal free lunch approach recently extended by the USDA, and bring long-term relief to millions of food-insecure families. The Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 would permanently provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack to all school children regardless of income, eliminate school meal debt, and strengthen local economies by incentivizing local food procurement.
States have also started taking action this year with both California and Maine passing universal free school meals programs for all students. It’s clear that Pennsylvania needs to step up and join other states in the fight for school meals.
The School Meals for All Pennsylvania aims to prevent our state from going backward and taking food away from kids. Now is the time for us to raise awareness of the transformative impact of the universal free meal expansion program, to ensure action is taken at the state and/or federal level to maintain our commitment that no Pennsylvania student should go hungry, and to reimagine the way school meal programs operate in years to come.
Overall Goal: A message that is visionary and demonstrates the necessary urgency to extend the provision of free, healthy school breakfast and lunch to all Pennsylvania school kids. Healthy school meals for all should remain for all schools, including Pennsylvania. We need to leverage the energy and momentum to lead on this important issue by implementing policies and expanding access across all levels.
Core Message: No child should go hungry because an adult in their life cannot afford school meals. Serving meals to all kids is a gamechanger for students, families, schools and communities. Healthy School Meals for All helps all children get the nutrition they need to succeed both in school and out of school and to help build strong, resilient communities.
Please reach out to your own state senator and representative to voice your support of these bills. You can find your legislators and their contact information here: https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/
Please reach out to both your state senator and representative.
We have provided a message below that you can copy and paste into your correspondence, or you are welcome to craft your own message. Please edit your messages to specifically address the Senator or Representative and then the corresponding Senate or House Bill.
Dear Senator OR Dear Representative __________,
I am a constituent and a voter asking you to support <<Senate Bill No.1327>> <<House Bill 2829>>, amending the Public School Code of 1949 to provide for a Universal School Meal Program and establish the Universal School Meal Fund.
School meals are as important to learning as textbooks and teachers, but federal funding that provided free school meals to all students for the past two years has ended. Going forward, only students from families who apply for and qualify will receive free school meals. The end of federal support will be especially difficult for families who fall just outside the USDA’s income-eligibility guidelines. Further, the application process creates barriers that result in eligible children not getting the help that they need.
The past two years have shown us how students and educators benefit when school meals are free for all children. School meals reduce childhood hunger, decrease childhood obesity, decrease absenteeism, decrease visits to the nurse, increase test scores, and contribute to positive mental and physical health.
The positive impacts of school meals can also be seen beyond the classrooms. School meals teach nutritious eating patterns by promoting the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grain, and dairy. This in turn supports our Pennsylvania farmers. Pennsylvania is the fourth largest USDA food producer in the country. By providing greater access to school meals and greater meal participation we are helping to ensure security for the hard hit agricultural industry in Pennsylvania.
I am asking you to support the work being outlined in <<Senate Bill No.1327>> <<House Bill 2829>> for universal free breakfast and lunch for all students in Pennsylvania. It is an investment in our future.