Senate approves McGuire’s bill which advances universal free school meals for California's hungriest kids

SB 138 streamlines school meal enrollment for students on Medi-Cal, who currently don’t automatically receive school meals

Thursday, June 1, 2017

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.

Each year, millions of low-income California children who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals miss out on them, also missing out on the academic and health benefits the meals provide.

“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, yet so many kids who need to eat, aren’t being provided free school meals – and it’s time that changes,” Senator McGuire said.

SB 138 – the “Feed the Kids Act” will address childhood hunger by removing a massive 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. SB 138 was approved by the Senate today with unanimous, bipartisan support.

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. 

“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. 

SB 138 will develop a universal enrollment process by ensuring 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 program. Building upon these successful local programs, SB 138 would automatically enroll eligible Medi-Cal students into reduced prices and free  meals as a way to address hunger among or state’s hungriest kids. In addition, the bill would allow for very high poverty schools to serve meals to all students for free because increased enrollment of low-income students in the free meal program will result in schools qualifying for a federal meal reimbursement program as well.   

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.

Should SB 138 be signed into law, 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. 

Senator McGuire is proud to be working with Senators Mitchell, Beall, Portantino and Hertzberg to get this important bill passed. SB 138 will now move to the State Assembly for approval.