WESTFORD — The following press release was shared with WestfordCAT from Rep. James Arciero’s office for publication and distribution.
State Representative James Arciero and the Massachusetts House of Representatives are pushing for legislation that would help students from low-income homes and families across the Commonwealth permanently.
The legislation, An Act Relative to School Meals, filed by Representative Andy Vargas and Senator Sal DiDomenico permanently incorporates a pandemic-era universal school meals option for students into law and would feed over 80,000 Massachusetts students a year. It is currently referred to the Joint Committee on Education and is co-sponsored by Representative Arciero and 111 other representatives across the Commonwealth.
“This bill, filed and advocated for by my colleague and friend Representative Andy Vargas is common sense legislation that would support and care for thousands of students here in Massachusetts. It’s rather simple: feeding children and our students is a morally right and good thing to do, as it would benefit many families who are navigating and feeling the rising costs of living. A student can’t learn without proper nourishment,” Rep. Arciero said. “The data and facts are also plain to see: students do better when they are cared for and feed. As a father, I could never imagine my daughter going to school hungry.”
The original legislation, An Act regarding breakfast after the bell, signed by Governor Charlie Baker in January of 2020 required all high poverty, public K-12 schools eligible for free-or-reduced-price meals under the federal National School Lunch Program to offer breakfast after the instructional day begins.
The Massachusetts House and Senate approved legislation last session to support and keep the program running through the end of the current school year, as Governor Maura Healey recently filed a $171 million extension to fund the program for the full 2023-2024 academic year.
That effort has saved families an average of $1,200 per child while also removing the stigma for those who previously qualified for free or reduced-price lunch.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, estimates showed expanding the window for school breakfast would increase access, and decrease food insecurity, for approximately 150,000 children across the Commonwealth, according to information from the Greater Boston Food Bank, which worked in conjunction with statewide coalition Rise and Shine Massachusetts to advocate for the bill when it was originally introduced in 2017.
With an estimated 81% increase in food insecurity among children due to COVID-19, more children are likely to qualify for the school breakfast program and will benefit from the program, Greater Boston Food Bank stated.
Massachusetts joins a movement of other legislatures and governing bodies that have looked to provide universal free school meals, including the states of Minnesota, California, Maine, and Colorado, which have all the passed the universal proposal.