Lawmakers in Hawaii have written to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to ask that universal free meals in school be offered to Maui students due to the wildfires that hit the island in August.
In a letter to Vilsack, the lawmakers argue that the USDA should permit the Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) to allow nutrition programs to offer free meals at school to all students in Maui for at least the remainder of the school year.
According to the letter’s authors, unemployment claims have spiked significantly since the wildfires and the unemployment rate is expected to continue to increase.
“Given the tremendous work that lies ahead for Maui, it would be fully appropriate for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide HIDOE with the flexibility to provide all Maui students with free school meals for at least the remainder of 2023-2024 school year – and possibly longer," the letter’s authors wrote. “We therefore ask you to use your authority as Secretary to provide this flexibility to HIDOE.”
Hawaii has previously tried to pass legislation on its own that would provide free meals to all students in the state. Earlier this year, lawmakers introduced universal free meals bill HB 620. The bill was last referred to the Committee on Education where is was deferred.