Bill Would Ensure School Meals for All Kids

By Vanguard Capitol Staff

Seeking to reduce hunger, improve learning, help families, and support California farmers and food producers, State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, introduced legislation Wednesday that would make free meals available to every public school student without any burdensome application process or eligibility determination with provisions that emphasize meals that are freshly prepared with locally grown food.

“Free education for every child has long been the norm. Knowing how essential nutrition is to learning, it makes sense that free, healthy meals also be the norm,” Sen. Skinner said. “SB 364 will ensure that students are fed without the red tape schools and families are currently burdened with.”

State and federal programs fund free and reduced-price meals for schoolchildren from low-income families. But over the years, many kids have been effectively locked out of the program due to mandatory and burdensome application processes and out-of-date federal income guidelines.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. Congress passed the Pandemic Child Prevention Act to allow meals to be served to all children without these paperwork burdens. SB 364 will use this model and allow schools to continue providing meals for all children after the pandemic is over.

Though California is an abundant producer of food, our kids are going hungry at an alarming rate. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, 15.2% of children in California were experiencing hunger, and that number has now nearly doubled. Providing a school meal to all students is an important step in addressing hunger.

“Schools needn’t be in the business of deciding who gets lunch and who doesn’t. It’s costly and contrary to the basic purpose of free education,” Skinner added. “SB 364 will end this unnecessary bureaucracy and set the table so that every student is entitled to a school meal just as they are entitled to schooling.”

SB 364 will also establish an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program to ensure that children have access to food when schools are closed during breaks and prolonged disasters. The proposal builds on the current Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, recently established by the federal government to ensure that kids have access to food while schools are closed during the pandemic. In recognition of California’s vibrant agriculture economy, SB 364 also prioritizes food grown and produced in California.

“As the nation’s largest agricultural economy, California farmers and ranchers could be the heroes of food security and feeding our future, our children,” said Kat Taylor, founding director of TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation, a co-sponsor of School Meals for All. “SB 364 is a bold vision to make California the first state in the nation to provide all kids with nutritious, locally grown school food

Members of the School Meals for All coalition include: The Office of Kat Taylor, the Center for Ecoliteracy, NextGen California, California Association of Food Banks, Food Research & Action Center, GRACE/End Child Poverty, Nourish California, Eat.Learn.Play Foundation, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Common Sense, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Growing the Table, Frog Hollow Farm, Stemple Creek Ranch, Culinary Farm at Marin Country Day School, Neighborhood Industries, and TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation.

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