Gillibrand introduces bill to provide universal free school meals
"U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced a bill that aims to address child hunger. The Universal School Meals Program Act would provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack to all schoolchildren across the country regardless of their families’ ability to pay. During a video press conference Thursday, Gillibrand said there are many positive benefits to free school meals.
U.S Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand talks about the Universal School Meals Program Act
during a video press conference Thursday. Screenshot
'Studies show that when students have access to free school meals, they do better in school,' she said. 'They have better attendance rates, they have better health and they have fewer behavioral incidents and reduced suspensions.'
Gillibrand said the bill would increase reimbursement for school authorities that participate in food nutrition programs and expand summer programs. According to the senator, the bill would make at least 726,000 more children in New York state eligible for free meals. Funding in New York’s state budget this year will already make it easier for schools to offer that service.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress gave schools waivers to provide free school meals. That assistance expired last year. Crystal FitzSimons, director of school and out-of-school time programs at the Food Research and Action Center, said allowing schools to offer free meals to all students is the best way for school nutrition programs to operate.
'The pandemic gave us the opportunity for a trial run for healthy school meals for all,' she said, 'and it showed us that it is not only doable, but it is the right thing to do.'
Gillibrand said the bill also creates an incentive for schools who get 25% of their food from local sources."