School Meals for All: A Historic Win
On July 1, 2021, Governor Janet Mills signed School Meals for All into law, ensuring Maine students will be among the first in the nation to have equal access to school meals! This historic moment is decades in the making and affirms that providing our students with full plates of food is the surest way to ensure they reach their full potential.
Full Plates is proud to have played a lead role in making school meals for all a reality, but a win this big simply couldn’t happen without the efforts and support of a broad coalition of folks who believe, as we do, that ending child hunger in Maine is an attainable goal. We’re grateful to those who signed our petition, contacted their legislators, leveraged their networks, and donated money to our cause. This victory belongs to all of us.
The Story of School Meals for All in Maine: A report by the National Farm to School Network
“Who’s At the Table? A Case Study of LD 1679: How Farm to School and Anti-Hunger Advocates Passed Healthy School Meals for All” written by the National Farm to School Network details the incremental work by our coalition of partners that led to the passage of school meals for all legislation in Maine.
Why School Meals for All?
Maine has the highest rate of child food insecurity in New England.
Studies show that school meals:
- Reduce childhood hunger
- Decrease childhood weight issues and obesity and improve child nutrition and wellness
- Enhance child development and school readiness
- Support learning, attendance, and behavior
- Are the healthiest meals for many children
It’s about Equity
- The existing policy for school meals where some children are expected to pay while others receive their meals for free, creates stigma and shame for those students that rely on school meals for their basic needs, and a barrier for those students who are not eligible but are still experiencing food insecurity
- A family of four with two parents working full-time, minimum wage jobs in Maine makes just $1,000 too much each year to qualify for free and reduced school meals
- Due to the limitations of the current method of collecting family income data through school meal benefit applications and the restrictive USDA income guidelines, the school meal eligibility rate never fully captures the need
- BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity
- Students aren’t expected to pay for books, desks, or bus fare, why should school breakfast and lunch be any different?
School Meals for All will streamline and strengthen school nutrition programs:
- Participation by all students in school meal programs increases when meals are provided for free, resulting in increased revenue by way of federal reimbursements
- School Meals for All will eliminate issues of unpaid school meal debt and reduce administrative paperwork, freeing up school nutrition staff to focus on feeding kids
The impact of hunger on outcomes for children:
- Food insecurity leads to negative lifetime health outcomes for children especially after repeated exposure
- Childhood food insecurity results in high costs to society
- School Meals for All passed the Legislature with strong bipartisan support, unanimously in the Senate and with overwhelming support in the House
- Both the Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald have endorsed LD 1679
- Nearly 1000 people have signed onto a petition in support of LD 1679
- During the public hearing, there were more than 50 live testimonies and 25 written testimonies submitted in support. There was no testimony against the bill.