By Adam Swift
The Fiscal Year 2024 State Budget includes permanent funding for universal school meals, which will provide free breakfast and lunch to students at every K-12 school in Massachusetts.
The universal school meals initiative has been a top priority for state Senator Sal DiDomenico, who has advocated and filed legislation in support of the program for several sessions alongside his colleague, Representative Andy Vargas, and anti-hunger organizations led by Project Bread.
“This program demonstrates the best of our state’s ideals, using funding to guarantee every Massachusetts student will access food at school,” said Senator DiDomenico, Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate who represents Chelsea, Everett, Charlestown, and Cambridge. “We have heard time and again from educators, advocates, and parents, that children cannot learn when they are hungry, so this program will ensure all our children can concentrate in class and enjoy being a kid. I want to thank Senate President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, and all my colleagues for their work to get this transformative program funded.”
Schools across the state have been providing universal school meals throughout the pandemic because costs for this program were temporarily footed by the federal government. In 2022, federal support for the program was cut off, but Senator DiDomenico worked with his colleagues to secure enough funding in last year’s state budget to continue funding free school meals throughout the Commonwealth for the 2022-2023 school year.
Thanks to this year’s budget, this program will be funded permanently so every K-12 school in Massachusetts will continue providing free breakfast and lunch to all students.
“This is a necessary investment in education and fight against child hunger,” said state Senator Lydia Edwards, who represents Winthrop, Revere, and East Boston “Our schools should be centers of wellness and education. School meals are similar to books and art supplies, in that they are part of the educational infrastructure.
“I am so proud to have supported this $172 million investment and even prouder that Fair Share Tax is paying for it. Personally, I remember the stigma when I would get reduced lunch or free lunch as a child. I am so happy no other child in Massachusetts has to go through that again.”
This program has been a massive success in Massachusetts over the past few school years, DiDomenico stated. Over 80,000 more students were eating lunch daily when costs were lifted, which allowed them to focus on class and relieved a financial burden from their parents.
DiDomenico said this is a crucial program especially as costs for housing, transportation, healthcare, and more have risen.
Acting Mayor Patrick Keefe in Revere said that city has been a leading example of the benefits of free meals in our schools, as it has had the programs for the past four years.
“The free meals programs make a significant difference for our students and are an asset to families that are struggling,” said Keefe. “The cafeteria routine is streamlined and efficient for everyone. We have seen how the programs can improve the educational experience and are excited for other communities that will now benefit from these programs statewide.”
The Chelsea public schools have also offered a universal free meals program over the past years.
“CPS is thrilled about the recent legislation that enacts free universal school meals in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” read a statement from district administration. “Free school meals have been part of our school district for some time, and our students and families benefit immensely. We’re happy to see that students across the state will now experience this fabulous initiative.”