California and Maine will offer free public school lunches
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Some U.S. cities — New York, Boston and Chicago — already provide free school meals for all.
But California and Maine have become the first states to offer free meals to all public school students, regardless of their families’ income.
Normally, a family of four has to make less than $35,000 a year to qualify for free student meals. Kathy Saile, director of No Kid Hungry California, said that amount is too low.
“Families that don’t qualify still struggle to pay even that few cents if they’re in reduced price or if they’re just above that level,” Saile said.
Now, California will spend more than $50 million to establish the program and another $650 million to cover meals in the first year.
This can help eliminate the stigma attached to free lunch, said Crystal FitzSimons, at the Food Research & Action Center.
“We know that kids opt out of free and reduced-price school meals as they get older and understand what’s going on around them more,” FitzSimons said.
And she said it will benefit all students. Research shows meals help kids concentrate.
“It can be really disruptive to a classroom to even just have one hungry student,” FitzSimons said.
All public school students in the United States are eligible for free meals in the upcoming school year through an extension of a temporary federal program started during the pandemic. Maine and California will begin their programs in the 2022-23 school year.
Correction (July 21, 2021): Previous versions of this web and audio story misstated the federal qualifications for students receiving free meals. They have been corrected.
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