Universal School Meals in D.C.
Universal School Meals policies offer free breakfast and lunch to all public school students, regardless of family income. Research shows that Universal School Meals policies boost access to school meals, decrease administrative burden for school administrators and nutrition staff, and reduce stigma for students from families with low incomes.
Universal Free School Meals Amendment Act of 2023
Universal School Meals is already gaining momentum in D.C.!
On January 13, 2023, Councilmembers Henderson, Parker, Nadeau, Gray, Pino, Frumin, Allen, and R. White introduced B25-0035, or the Universal Free School Meals Amendment Act of 2023, to the Council of the District of Columbia. The legislation would provide “free universal school breakfast, lunch, and after-school snacks to students in public, charter, and participating private schools in the District of Columbia.”
Across the country, parents, teachers, students, doctors, nurses, dieticians, policymakers, and many others are raising their hand to make Universal School Meals a reality. Maine, California, and Colorado have already made free school meals a permanent part of the school day, while Massachusetts, Vermont, and Nevada have established Universal School Meals programs for the 2022-2023 school year. Similar legislation is being considered in many other states.
Universal School Meals is a game-changer for children, families, and school administrators.
This Is No Time To Turn Back
During the COVID-19 pandemic, child hunger spiked dramatically. To ease the problem, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a series of waivers to expand access to school meals, including a waiver that allowed schools to provide free meals to all students. Without this waiver, the childhood hunger caused by the fallout of the pandemic would have been far worse.
But the waivers allowing Universal School Meals on a federal level expired on June 30, 2022. That means many D.C. schools are once again required to collect school meal applications from families to confirm eligibility for free or reduced-price school meals.
The current system creates a number of unnecessary hurdles for families in D.C., including:
- Burden of applying for free or reduced-price meals, which can be a burden for families with low literacy levels, those who do not speak English at home, and undocumented families
- Stigma for children who make use of free and reduced-price meal options
- Administrative burdens on school administrators who need to collect and analyze school meal applications
- Decreases overall participation in school meals, especially for families and children who do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals but would benefit from them
The pandemic provided a valuable lesson on the critical importance and benefits of providing free meals to all students. It’s time for Universal School Meals in D.C.
Why We Need Universal School Meals In D.C.
Schools are far more than a place of learning for our children. Schools provide critical resources, including nutrition, to support childrens’ wellbeing and promote overall health. Children can’t learn on an empty stomach.
Children who receive free school meals have been shown to:
- achieve higher math and reading scores,
- experience lower obesity rates,
- consume more fruits and vegetables,
- have lower risk of behavioral issues, and
- experience fewer nutrition deficiencies.
Adopting Universal School Meals is also a critical step in helping to alleviate the disproportionately high rates of food insecurity among Black and Latinx students, and thus also advances racial equity.
Here are two ways you can show your support for Universal School Meals in D.C.:
Join the Healthy School Meals for All Coalition D.C.
The Healthy School Meals for All Coalition DC is an opportunity for you to advocate on behalf of all students in D.C. Joining this Healthy School Meals for All Coalition is a chance to share stories, display your commitment, and lend your voice to a shared belief that all children deserve access to affordable, healthy, and nutritious meals.
Sign-On in Support of the Universal School Meals Amendment Act of 2023
We have the opportunity to ensure that all students are hunger-free and ready to learn. Now is the time to act! Belong to a local organization or association serving the District of Columbia? Show your support for the Universal School Meals Amendment Act of 2023 by adding your signature to D.C. Hunger Solutions’ sign-on letter.