California first state to offer free meals to public, charter school students

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will become the first state to implement a statewide free meals program for school children, providing free breakfasts and lunches to students regardless of income status.

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The Universal Meals Program, which will go into effect for the 2022-23 school year, will apply to students attending public and charter schools, KTXL-TV reported. The program will build on the federal National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, according to a news release.

“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,” Nicholas Filipas, spokesperson for the California Department of Education, said in a statement.

All previous lunch debts on students’ accounts have also been forgiven, KXTV reported.

Previously, students qualified for free meals from their schools according to their parents’ income taxes, their ZIP code and the level of poverty in the school’s surrounding area, KTXL reported.

On July 9, 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law providing one-time funds for public schools to expand their nutrition services, according to the news release. The measure laid the groundwork for the Universal Meals Program, KTXL reported.

Temporary free lunch programs were offered at districts statewide during the COVID-19 pandemic when students began returning to school, according to the television station.

“With the start of the new school year, California has expanded the existing state meal mandate, and now each school day, public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools will make available at no charge/cost to all students, regardless of their individual eligibility, breakfast and lunch,” Filipas said.