Sacramento, CA – California has more children in poverty than any other state in the nation, with nearly one in four kids going hungry each day. In fact, there are more kids in poverty here in the Golden State now than there were prior to the recession. The time is right for California to broaden the reach of school meals.
Well-nourished students can learn, grow, and achieve at their fullest potential. Yet, each year, millions of low-income California children who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals miss out on the academic and health benefits of school meals.
Two years ago, Senator McGuire made significant progress by cutting through bureaucratic red tape by enrolling over 326,000 students on free lunches. The process was made easier by streamlining the free lunch system and ensuring students who were on CalFresh were also being enrolled in the free lunch program at their school. This was a 30% increase from the year before and was one of the largest enrollment increases the Golden State has seen in decades.
He’s back at it today and has introduced SB 138 – the "Feed the Kids Act" a bill aimed at addressing childhood hunger by removing another layer of bureaucratic red tape from the State school meal program enrollment process and by serving all students in very high poverty schools for free.
"California is the sixth largest economy in the world and we produce more food than any other state in America. We have to step up and declare war on childhood poverty and ensure California's kids get the resources they need to thrive," Senator Mike McGuire said. "When a child goes to school hungry, their ability to learn, grow and thrive is compromised. School meals are extremely effective at fighting the devastating effects of child hunger and improving outcomes in our public schools."
SB 138 will greatly improve the current certification process and ensure that all school districts utilize Medi-Cal data to seamlessly enroll income-eligible students in free and reduced-price school meals. Currently, most districts do not use Medi-Cal data to automatically enroll students. This bill will automatically enroll income-eligible students who are on Medi-Cal onto the free and reduced lunch program at their school, therefore increasing the number of kids receiving free and reduced lunch. The California Department of Education believes an additional 500,000 elementary, middle school and high school students would start receiving school meals under this new and efficient certification process.
This bill is modeled after a successful pilot program where 14 school districts enrolled low-income students who receive Medi-Cal into a free school meal statewide. Building upon these successful local programs, SB 138 would automatically enroll eligible Medi-Cal students into reduced priced meals as a way to address hunger among the working poor. In addition, the bill would allow for very high poverty schools to serve meals to all students for free by using federal options to do so.
“Child hunger is a widespread, urgent and shameful problem that cannot wait. SB 138 is a common sense step to ensure more children get school meals, which protect them from the pains of an empty stomach and the devastating impacts of hunger on children’s health and school success,” said Michele Stillwell-Parvensky, Senior Policy and Government Affairs Manager at Children’s Defense Fund-California.
SB 138 would more effectively identify low-income students and significantly increase access to school meals. Participating districts in the pilot program saw an increase of more than 60,000 students enrolled in their free and reduced lunch programs, which brought in over $33 million in additional federal meal reimbursements.
If this bill passes, there are 41 additional schools on the North Coast that would likely qualify for a 100 percent federal reimbursement for school meals for all of their students. These include 13 small schools in Sonoma County, 9 in Humboldt County, 4 in Marin County, 8 in Lake County, 2 in Trinity County, 1 in Del Norte County and 4 in Mendocino County.
McGuire is proud to be working with Senators Mitchell, Beall, Portantino and Hertzberg to get this important bill passed.