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Universal Meals for All 

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.

Background:

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.

Legislative Briefing:

  • Under this bill, a school is eligible for state reimbursement for lunches and breakfasts served in a school year only if the school 1) participates in both the National School Lunch Program and the federal School Breakfast Program for the school year; and 2) for each school day in which school is in session during the school year, provides to any pupil who requests one, at no cost to the pupil, one lunch and one breakfast that meet the federal food, nutritional, and other requirements for meals served under the federal program.
    •  The Department of Public Instruction must reimburse an eligible school a per meal amount that is equal to the federal reimbursement rate applicable to the school under the federal programs for a meal served to a pupil who satisfies the income eligibility criteria for a free lunch.
  • The bill applies to school districts, independent charter schools, private schools, tribal schools, residential care centers for children and youth, the Pennsylvania Educational Services Program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the Pennsylvania Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Talking Points and Overall Messaging:

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.

Additional Messaging:

  • School meals can help to:
    • Reduce childhood hunger and food insecurity;
    • Boost academic achievement, child development and school readiness;
    • Support learning, attendance, and positive behavior;
    • End the stigma surrounding school meal participation;
    • Decrease suspension rates and tardiness;
    • Improve nutrition and health outcomes; and
    • End school meal debt
    • Address racial inequities
  • Expanding funding for school meals can help to support the local economy, job creation, and local agriculture.
  • U.S. children get their healthiest meals at school, demonstrating that school meals are one of the most powerful tools for delivering good nutrition to children. School meals are of higher nutritional quality than meals brought from home.
  • Working families don't always have the option or time to provide a healthy meal for their children.
  • For years, too many children have been left behind by the way our school meal programs have been structured. There are many hungry kids who've fallen between the cracks.
  • Healthy School Meals for All would help to reduce racial disparities in health and educations for Black, Latino, and Indigenous children, who experience hunger at disproportionate rates and face systemic barriers to food access.
  • School meals are just as important to academic success as textbooks and transportation.
  • Enhanced funding through the expansion will not only feed more kids, but invest in the food service industry, create jobs through local economic development. and support farmers and growers. And, it supports working families when and where they need it most.

Resources:

School Meals for All Sample Social Media Messaging:

Sample Facebook:

  • No child should go hungry because an adult in their life cannot afford school meals. Join me in the movement to support #HealthySchoolMealsforAll throughout Pennsylvania. Learn more and support the Healthy School Meals for all bill at snapa.org/mealsforall. #SchoolLunchMatters
  • Supporting the #HealthySchoolMealsforAll bill has advantages for all! Not only does it allow students to get the nutrition they need to concentrate in class, but it creates more jobs for farmers and school cafeteria workers—two groups heavily affected by the pandemic. Take action at  snapa.org/mealsforall. #SchoolLunchMatters
  • Why is providing children throughout Pennsylvania with free healthy school meals important to you? Let us know by sharing the customizable graphic below and learn more about the #HealthySchoolMealsforAll bill at  snapa.org/mealsforall. #SchoolLunchMatters

    Sample Instagram:

    • No child should go hungry because an adult in their life cannot afford school meals. Join me in the movement to support #HealthySchoolMealsforAll throughout Pennsylvania. Learn more and support the Healthy School Meals for all bill at snapa.org/mealsforall. #SchoolLunchMatters
    • Supporting the #HealthySchoolMealsforAll bill has advantages for all! Not only does it allow students to get the nutrition they need to concentrate in class, but it creates more jobs for farmers and school cafeteria workers—two groups who’ve been heavily affected by the pandemic. Take action at snapa.org/mealsforall. #SchoolLunchMatters
    • Why is providing children throughout Pennsylvania with free healthy school meals important to you? Comment with your response and learn more about the #HealthySchoolMealsforAll bill at snapa.org/mealsforall. #SchoolLunchMatters

    Sample Twitter:

    • No child should go hungry because an adult in their life cannot afford school meals. Join me in the movement to support #HealthySchoolMealsforAll throughout Pennsylvania. Learn more and support the Healthy School Meals for all bill at snapa.org/mealsforall. #SchoolLunchMatters
    • Supporting the #HealthySchoolMealsforAll bill has advantages for all! Not only does it allow students to get the nutrition they need to concentrate, but it creates more jobs for farmers and school cafeteria workers. Take action at snapa.org/mealsforall. #SchoolLunchMatters
    • Why is providing children throughout Pennsylvania with free healthy school meals important to you? Quote tweet us with your response in the customizable graphic below and learn more about the #HealthySchoolMealsforAll bill at snapa.org/mealsforall. #SchoolLunchMatters

    Pivots and Questions:

    • Will this program decrease the overall quality of school meals? No. The USDA requires schools to meet nutrition standards based on nutritional science for each grade. In fact, this significant investment in education, health, and the food system will likely help schools to increase the nutritional quality of the meals.
    • Can schools who participate in this program still scratch cook? Absolutely! The USDA requirements are flexible to allow all kinds of cooked meals to serve to students.
    • Will this create more jobs? Yes! Serving more kids breakfast and lunch will create more jobs, help to provide enhanced living wages to food service workers and expand opportunities for current employees. It will also support Pennsylvania farmers and state agriculture!
    • What will happen to any negative balances (school lunch debt)? No-cost meals create more opportunities for families and school districts to pay off balances while avoiding new charges. Further, offering free meals to all students eliminates school meal debt and lunch shaming that can stem from it.
    • What about the kids whose families don’t want or need a meal? Access to nutritionally balanced meals should be for all, not on an assumed need. Meals will be offered to all kids but not forced. Schools will be reimbursed for the meals taken.
    • Would all schools serve the same menu? No, each school would still create and manage its own program and menu.
    • How will this help to address the quality of school food? Universal school meals programs can help to increase participation across districts, therefore making deeper investments in high-quality, nutritious school food and the food system supply chain.
    • Why is this issue so important now? The pandemic highlighted the critical role that school meals play for children, particularly those from low-income households, and will be an important educational and health support as the nation rebuilds from the pandemic.
    • What is the cost to offer free meals to all kids? And, how will we pay for it? After the bill circulates, it will take about 2 weeks for DPI to provide a hard fiscal estimate. We will be sharing that estimate as it comes in. However, we believe that no matter the cost, kids are worth it!
    • Which Pennsylvania schools are eligible to participate in this program? Under this bill, schools that participate in both the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs are eligible for reimbursement. The bill applies to school districts, independent charter schools, private schools, tribal schools, residential care centers for children and youth, the Pennsylvania Educational Services Program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the Pennsylvania Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
    • What about issues with the food supply chain? Shortening our supply chains is one of the solutions to our supply chain issues. Investing in food systems including our small farmers and producers will decrease our dependence on transporting goods from out of Pennsylvania. Let’s invest in “made in Pennsylvania.” 
    • How will school districts implement this expansion with the current workforce shortages? Building and growing a strong workforce starts with community and workplace investment. The additional funding provided in enhanced reimbursements will help foodservice departments to expand meals while addressing the barriers many workers face when entering and remaining in 5 the workforce. Additionally, it will support local farmers and growers, enhance the local economy, and support small businesses.

    Draft Letter to State Legislator:

    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. 

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    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.  

    Sincerely,

    Name
    Address



    The School Nutrition Association of Pennsylvania

    PO Box 1421

    Winchester, VA  22604 

    717-732-1100
    executivedirector@snapa.org

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    The School Nutrition Association of Pennsylvania

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