Statement of CSPI Senior Policy Associate Meghan Maroney
While votes are still being counted in many important races all around the country, one glimmer of good news springs from Colorado, where voters last night approved a ballot measure ensuring that all children in the state receive free and healthy school meals. In a night of tight races, Proposition FF passed by a comfortable margin.
Covid-era waivers allowing all school districts to offer free healthy school meals for all expired in August, presenting a new hardship for families that make too much to qualify for free meals but cannot afford to pay for them. Congress, for its part, has passed up several opportunities to bring free meals back. Many families have been confronted with their first school meal expenses since 2020. And those kids who get a school meal but come up short at the register face the prospect of cruel and stigmatizing “lunch shaming” tactics like inferior “alternate” meals.
According to Hunger-Free Colorado, our partner and the lead proponent behind Proposition FF, more than 60,000 students in Colorado can’t afford school meals—and yet still can’t qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Besides providing healthy and nutritious meals to all Colorado students, the measure will support the state’s farmers and ranchers by reimbursing schools for locally sourced foods and will provide financial assistance to schools for new equipment and higher wages for food service employees.
California and Maine passed similar measures last year; Colorado becomes the third to guarantee free, permanent healthy school meals for all. Nevada, Massachusetts, and Vermont have passed one-year extensions.
But what about kids in other states?
As Congress considers omnibus spending legislation for Fiscal Year 2023, it must ensure that free, healthy school meals are available to the 30 million children who need them. In other words, when the omnibus leaves the stop, it shouldn’t leave school kids stranded at the curb. Again.