California to Provide Free Meals for all Public School Students

California officials have lifted a huge weight off parents’ shoulder.

According ABC 10, the Golden State has officially implemented its Universal Meals Program—an ambitious initiative that’ll offer free breakfast and lunch for every public school student, regardless of their family’s income. Education leaders say the statewide program comes at a crucial time, as many families endure financial struggles due to inflation.  

“Building on the historic budget investments for our California students and schools, Universal Meals is one of seven key pillars for transforming schools designed to help students heal, recover, and thrive while maximizing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to break the cycle of educational inequity, including nutrition insecurity,” said Nicholas Filipas, spokesperson for the California Department of Education.

In addition providing free meals for California’s 6 million-plus students, officials announced they’ll also forgive all outstanding lunch debts.

According to a 2021 Associated Press report, a family of four was required to make less that $34,000 a year to qualify for free lunch, and less than $48,000 a year for reduced price benefits. The outlet states the limits are subject to annual shifts, as they’re based on federal poverty data.

The California Department of Education outlined three key pillars to ensure the program is a success:

  • Pillar One: California’s State Meal Mandate is expanded to include both a nutritiously adequate breakfast and lunch for, not just needy children, but all children each school day.
  • Pillar Two: High poverty schools will be required to participate in a federal provision.
  • Pillar Three: The California State Legislature allocates funds to provide additional state meal reimbursement to cover the cost of the Universal Meals Program.

“These meals must continue to be nutritious and comply with the federal meal standards for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP),” Filipas said. “In order for schools to receive the additional state reimbursement for universal meals served to all students regardless of their individual eligibility.”

The program will officially launch in the upcoming 2022-2023 academic year.

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