, May 11, 2021 – Senators Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand and Representatives Ilhan Omar and Gwen Moore yesterday introduced the Universal School Meals Program Act, legislation to provide universal meals for all children enrolled in school. This bill would provide free breakfast and lunch to students regardless of their family’s income level, negating the need to apply or verify eligibility for school food programs and making it easier for programs to continue to feed children throughout the year.
The American Heart Association, the world’s leading voluntary organization focused on heart and brain health, issued the following statement in support of the bill:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for many, but school-aged children have been especially impacted by school closings, the transition to virtual learning and, for many, a disruption in how they eat. With the economic downturn due to the pandemic, one in five children were food insecure in 2020, and Black and Hispanic households are more food insecure than white families.
“To combat the food and nutrition insecurity plaguing our nation, many schools were able to provide free breakfast and lunch to students regardless of their income during this difficult time. New research has shown that medium and large schools that used the universal meal model saw a cost savings while maintaining nutritional standards. Unfortunately, the waivers that enable this are only temporary, scheduled to expire in June 2022.
“The Universal Schools Meals Program Act would provide equitable access to healthy meals for children, remove financial burdens for families, help children who might be on the edge of eligibility access nutritious meals and mitigate the shame some students face in their school cafeteria. Every child deserves access to healthy meals, this bill would successfully remove barriers and ensure children are getting the nutrition they need to thrive.”