AUGUSTA — A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to reduce student hunger earned unanimous, bipartisan support in the Senate on Monday. LD 1679, An Act To Address Student Hunger through Expanding Access to Free School Meals would make School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs available to all Maine students at no cost.
“Hunger is something that children just shouldn’t have to worry about. Yet, too many kids go to school hungry and are expected to learn on an empty stomach. It’s really hard not to get choked up about it,” said President Jackson. “With this bill, we can make sure all children have a chance to focus on learning to read, play with their friends and just be a kid. I’m grateful that the Senate could join together and pass this bill.”
Maine has the highest rate of food insecurity in New England, with one in six Maine students lacking regular and reliable access to basic nutrition. The number of children experiencing food insecurity is projected to increase by about 40 percent statewide due to families experiencing economic hardship due to COVID-19. According to Feeding America, many families experiencing food insecurity are not eligible for school meals.
“Back when I was a kid in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, our family struggled to make ends meet. As hard as they both worked to put food on the table for their two children — and believe me they worked hard — we needed food stamps in order to survive. Still, my parents made clear in both word and deed that no matter how little we had, someone else had less and we needed to help them however we could,” said Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop. “If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes all of us in the Senate to feed all of our children, and that is exactly what this bill seeks to do. I am proud to have voted in favor of LD 1679 and carry on my parents’ legacy here in Maine.”
“Over my years as an educator, combined with my short time as chair of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, I can tell you without a doubt that food insecurity is an unfortunate reality that many of our students face day in and day out here in Maine,” said Sen. Joe Rafferty, D-Kennebunk, who spent four decades coaching and teaching at Kennebunk High School. “When a student goes hungry, it almost creates a ripple effect for the rest of their day. They might struggle to learn effectively or focus in class. This bill gives us an opportunity to make sure that when our kids go to school they can focus on what’s going on in the classroom instead of figuring out how to pay for their next meal.”
LD 1679 is part of President Jackson’s Kids First Plan. The second bill — LD 1712, An Act To Support Children’s Healthy Development and School Success — will likely come before the Legislature later this week. The proposal would expand access to quality, affordable child care by investing in child care providers and working with community stakeholders to open slots in existing child care programs through the First 4 ME program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.