State lawmakers work to expand free school meal access

Also in this week’s legislative update: A bill introduced in New York aims to help schools as they continue to deal with a milk carton shortage.
Students get lunch at school
Lawmakers in several states are looking to expand free school meal access. | Photo: Shutterstock

It’s been a busy start to the year regarding school nutrition legislation. Lawmakers in a handful of states are looking to pass bills that would expand free school meal access to students and a bill introduced in New York aims to help school nutrition professionals overcome milk carton shortages. Here is the latest in school nutrition legislation.  

New York milk bill aims to help alleviate milk carton shortage

New York Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon and Senator Joseph Griffo have introduced ledgislation that would set up a milk pilot program at schools in Oneida County to help them as they continue to face a milk carton shortage that has been impacting schools throughout the country since the fall.

As part of the pilot, districts in the county would be able to purchase self-serve milk dispensers and bulk milk orders and receive reimbursement from the state. The bill also directs the state to perform a study to analyze how the pilot impacts the milk carton shortage. 

“Students should not miss out on receiving milk with their meals because of a shortage of half-pint cartons,” said Buttenschon in a statement. “Dairy farmers play a vital role in producing milk that holds great nutritional value, especially for children. While there is not a shortage of milk, my legislation will help these farmers sell more by providing an alternate solution to the carton problem. Milk provides our students with the nourishment their body needs to grow, and I will always advocate for laws that put the well-being of our youth first.”

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Education.

New Jersey advances bill to expand free school meal access

The New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee has advanced legislation that would expand free school meal access to more students in the state.

Sponsored by Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, SB 4055 would provide free meals at school to students who come from families with an annual household income of not more than 224% of the federal poverty level. 

“Our school breakfast and lunch programs are sometimes, unfortunately, the only place where students get access to meals,” Ruiz said in a statement. “Food insecurity is a reality in all of our communities. Any and every effort made to ensure that our children are fed are good investments in their health and well-being. A student should not be worried about where their next meal will be.”

New Jersey first expanded free school meal access with the passage of the Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act in 2022 which provides free school lunch for students whose families annually earn no more than 199% of the federal poverty level. 

Oklahoma lawmakers consider expanding free school meal access

Lawmakers in Oklahoma are also considering expanding free school meal access to additional students in the state.

If passed, SB 1220 would require schools to provide free meals to all students from households with incomes not exceeding 250% of the federal poverty line for the next two school years.

The Department of Education would be in charge of allocating the funds for the program.

South Dakota bill would cover cost of reduced-price meals

South Dakota is the latest state to introduce a bill that would cover the cost of reduced-price meals at school.

HB 1042 would allow students who qualify for reduced-price meals to receive free breakfast and lunch daily at school.

Some states have already begun covering the cost of reduced-price meals for students, including Arizona, Ohio and Louisiana.

Florida becomes latest state to introduce universal free meals bill

Florida lawmakers have introduced a bill that would provide universal free school meals in the state.

If passed, HB 477 would cover free meals at school for all public school students, regardless of their families income starting in July.

The bill has been referred to Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee. A companion bill has also been introduced in the Senate.

See which states currently offer universal free meals via the map below:



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