Bill would make school lunch free for Colorado students

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DENVER (KDVR) — According to Hunger Free Colorado, more than 300,000 kids in the state qualify for free and reduced school meals but if the pandemic taught any lessons, one is that unexpected events in life can leave many cutting back on food to make ends meet.

Lawmakers at the Capitol have a plan to make school meals free for everyone. 

Legislators want to crack down on child hunger in the state by making breakfast and lunch at school free for every student, regardless of income eligibility.

“I had people who started coming to me and said, ‘Well I need free lunch too but I don’t have the information to put on the form.’ So I started down this rabbit hole to see how we can get this information off the form because the federal government is the one we needed to pay for the food,” Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, of Adams County, said. “And the federal government said, ‘Nope. No information, no money.’ This bill changes that.”

If passed, this bill would set up a statewide program to reimburse school districts for providing healthy meals for all students. The sponsors want the federal government to do most of the funding, but the state would have to chip in too.

“I think it could be anywhere from $75 million to $105 million but we think that something like that is very doable and is needed. Our kids’ health and academic success and overall, well-being is definitely worth investing in now more than ever,” Marc Jacobson, Hunger Free Colorado’s chief executive officer, said.

Every student is currently eligible for free meals courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of the pandemic, but with those meals set to expire this year, Colorado lawmakers are hoping to make them a mainstay as states like California and Maine already have.

“In a lot of schools, it promotes a sense of unity among everybody in the school when they all get to eat lunch together and you don’t have to decide who gets to eat what lunch,” Evie Hudak, Colorado PTA’s vice president of marketing and communications, said.

“Far too many who should qualify are not receiving the meals at school who are also struggling and unable to get the food they need at home. So that’s why this important but it’s also making sure that we remove that stigma that everybody has access to healthy food at school so they can focus on learning,” Jefferson County Sen. Brittany Petterson said.

The measure would take effect starting in the 2023-2024 budget year if it becomes law.

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