California launches largest free school lunch program in US – Fresno, California

Fresno, California 2021-07-19 16:59:49 –

When California classrooms reopen in the fall semester, all 6.2 million public school students will be able to eat school meals free of charge, regardless of family income.

The project, made possible by an unexpected budget surplus, will be the largest free student lunch program in the country. School officials, lawmakers, hunger eradication groups, and parents praise it as a pioneering way to prevent the stigma of accepting free lunches and feed more hungry children.

“It’s so historic, it’s more than life-changing,” said Erin Primer, food services director at the San Luis Coastal Unified School District on the Central Coast of California.

Several US cities, including New York, Boston, and Chicago, already offer free school meals to everyone. But until recently, state-wide universal meal programs were considered too expensive and impractical. California became the first state to adopt the Universal Program at the end of last month, and Maine adopted a similar plan shortly thereafter.

“When it comes to school meals, we’ve completely leveled the competition,” Primer said. With additional funding, she said she would be able to offer more delicious and quality foods such as fresh bread, produce and cheese from local producers.

Under federal regulations, a family of four must earn less than $ 34,000 a year to qualify for a free meal and less than $ 48,000 to qualify for a discounted meal. The cap fluctuates from year to year, but is based on federal poverty alleviation, which does not take into account California’s high living costs and taxes.

Cat Taylor, a philanthropist and co-founder of the Center for Ecoliteracy and Tom Cat Ranch, said: It upheld the California plan.

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Approximately 60% of California students are qualified, but experts say that states with high income inequality have far more children in need of food assistance. The color community is disproportionately affected, and the immigrant community in particular is afraid to apply because it has a detailed form to ask annoying questions such as family income, social security number, and child’s immigration status.

The school reported that the proportion of families applying for free, discounted meals was declining during the Trump administration, which sought to strengthen immigration policy and the public interest.

Like school officials throughout the state, Primer has a myriad of stories about children who struggle to pay for school meals or are too embarrassed to eat for free. She had a child her mother called Primer, and she was upset because she earned too many hundreds of dollars to qualify. A father who was illegally in the country and was afraid that he would be deported by filling out a free meal application. Also, there are constant cases where high school students don’t want their friends to know that they need a free meal, so they skip meals.

When the pandemic broke out, it changed everything, including how school meals were served, and gave momentum to a universal program with bipartisan unanimous support. Legislators used to pursue only targeted bills, such as easing school meal debt.

After the school closed in March 2020, many turned parking lots into collection points, and federal funding allowed the school to serve anyone. There were no applications, qualifications or questions.

A lot of people got together and found out how much their families depended on food.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest school district with 600,000 students, distributed more than 400,000 meals a day, said spokeswoman Shannon Harbor. With 7,500 students, San Luis Coastal distributed 30,000 meals a week during the peak of the pandemic, nearly triple the number it used to be. The area includes the wealthy city of San Luis Obispo and low-income areas.

“I thought it was a dream dream for a long time,” said Senator Nancy Skinner, a longtime supporter of the universal free meal.

Backed by more than 200 coalitions called “School Meals for All,” Skinner and other lawmakers gained momentum when California was flooded with cash and pushed to raise money on a state budget. .. The $ 262 billion budget will provide $ 54 million for the next school year to supplement funding from the Biden administration by June 2022. After that, California spends $ 650 million annually.

“If you’re a hungry kid, you’re not going to learn well,” said Skinner, a Democrat on behalf of Berkeley. “Why do I have to go through bureaucratic care to feed my child when I have a universal diet?”

Republicans on the Senate Board of Education supported the plan as a way to help families suffering from the high cost of living in California. Senator Brian Dahle, a Republican who is largely rural in Northern California, said he saw children in a children’s school steal leftovers when cafeteria workers weren’t watching.

“For many of them, it was their supper, and when they didn’t finish it, they were sneaking it or removing it from someone’s dish,” Dahl said.

Schools rarely keep hungry children away. However, for children who were not qualified and needed lunch, their parents were charged and many were in huge debt. In recent years, some schools have threatened to prevent students from graduating from junior high or high school until lunch is paid or the student’s hand is stamped, formerly an advocate of hunger. Jessica Barsorow, the chief of the Skinner staff who was there, said.

Some schools will hire debt collectors to hunt down their parents, but at the end of the year schools will have to spend common dollars to pay off their lunch program debt, she said. Told.

For Tina Self, a mother of three, it’s very reassuring to avoid the cost of $ 3 a day for school meals.

“It may seem like a little, but it helps a lot,” said Self, who lives in San Luis Obispo, a shy guy with a gallon of petrol for $ 5 a gallon and a “crazy” rent. ..

“Fortunately for us, we are both working and have two running cars,” she said of herself and her husband. “But we can hardly leave it as it is.”

Tony Wald, Vice-Principal of West Contra Costa Unified School, says it was around the time when lunch was free.

“There are some things you have to do, just as you need to give your students a textbook and a computer, and this is one of them,” Wald said.

The video above is from a previous report.

Copyright © 2021 By AP communication. all rights reserved.

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