The Food Research and Action Center held a webinar on November 30, 2023 to discuss the benefits and need for free school meals, regardless of household income, to be provided to all children. These benefits include students being ready to learn, reduced stigma in the lunchroom, the end of school meal debt, and more. There are currently many groups advocating for free school meals at the local, state, and federal levels of government, with support from teachers, students, administrators, health organizations, and more.

Many schools offer free or reduced meals but oftentimes the income eligibility for free meals is very low and many of the children who need it are ineligible. Legislation will need to be passed either at the federal level all at once, state level, or in incremental steps, such as increasing eligibility criteria in different locations. Free school meal legislation has been passed in stand-alone bills, as part of larger budget bills, and in some instances as a ballot measure. Only eight states have passed legislation guaranteeing all students have access to free meals in schools. However, free school meals gains bipartisan support and requires different components in different localities. The various components of legislation that can be offered include state funding to cover costs between federal reimbursements or state funding for procuring equipment or training of staff.

By Harper Dilley, Policy Intern