AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee approved a bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to reduce student hunger in a vote of 11-2 last week. 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.
“As a lawmaker, and more importantly a parent, I want our kids to get the chance to focus on being kids — doing things like playing with their friends or learning how to read — not worrying about where their next meal will come from,” said President Jackson. “In a small state like Maine, we have the power to not just put a dent in childhood hunger but possibly end childhood hunger. That starts with universal school meals. I’m grateful that my colleagues on the Education Committee agree.”
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.
“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 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.”
Studies show that expanding access to school meals improves attendance, focus and academic outcomes.
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 — has a work session scheduled for 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, May 26 before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. 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.
LD 1679 faces additional votes in the Senate and House.