U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Representatives Ilhan Omar and Gwen Moore have introduced legislation to make universal free school meals permanent.
The bill is similar to the Universal School Meals Program Act introduced by Sanders and Omar in 2019. Under the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021, all K-12 students would receive free breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack, regardless of income. The bill would also scrap the requirement that communities must have at least 50% of its students be eligible for free or reduced-priced meals to run a summer food service program site. Families of students would also receive $60 in Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) funds per child each month during the summer to use for food when school is not in session.
Along with offering universal free meals during the school year, the bill would increase school meal reimbursement rates to $2.72 for breakfast and $3.81 for lunch and dinner, and reimburse schools for all delinquent school meal debt. Schools that procure 25% of their food from local sources would also receive an incentive of up to $0.30 per meal.
The bill is endorsed by over 360 organizations, including the School Nutrition Association (SNA), which says that the recent federal waivers issued during the pandemic that allowed schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to students show how universal meals are essential in both eliminating childhood hunger and helping cut costs and paperwork for school nutrition professionals.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have witnessed the tremendous benefit of offering all children healthy school meals at no charge,” SNA President Reggie Ross said in a statement. “We know our students are fueled for learning when we give them the choice to take a meal. Children shouldn’t have to worry about meal applications or whether they have money on their accounts so they can eat.”
Universal free meals has been a priority for the SNA and is a major focus of its 2021 Position Paper.