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Senator Nancy Skinner. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Bill To Make School Lunches Free for All Californian Students Introduced in Senate

SB 364 would also allow all public school students to get meals during long breaks, prolonged disasters

By Evan Symon, February 11, 2021 2:48 pm

A new bill to make school lunches free for all public school students in the state, regardless of status or income, was introduced in the Senate Wednesday.

Under Senate Bill 364, authored by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), breakfast and lunches would continue to be offered to all public school students free of charge after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The new school meal program, to be known as the California Universal School Meal Program, would effectively remove lengthy application processes and eligibility determination for free meals.

SB 364 would act as an extension of the federal Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act. Passed by Congress last year, the act allows meals to be served to all public school children without the need of paperwork or eligibility requirements until the end of the pandemic. If passed, the federal program would transfer to SB 364 in California after the pandemic.

In addition, the bill would create an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program known as the Better Out of School Time (BOOST) Nutrition Program, ensuring children can continue to receive free meals when the school is closed during breaks lasting longer than a week and future prolonged disasters. Like the the California Universal School Meal Program acting as an extension of a federal program, the BOOST program would be an extension of the current federal Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, which gives children access to meals while schools are closed for the pandemic.

Finally, California agriculture will be highlighted in the new meal program, prioritizing food grown and produced in California.

Senator Skinner wrote SB 364 as a way to battle growing hunger in California. According to Skinner, 0ver 30% of children in California are experiencing hunger, double the pre-COVID-19 rate of 15.2%. By removing “red tape” and applications from the free meal process, Skinner notes that the bill would effectively fight child hunger in the state.

“Free education for every child has long been the norm. Knowing how essential nutrition is to learning, it makes sense that free, healthy meals also be the norm,” Senator Skinner said Wednesday. “SB 364 will ensure that students are fed without the red tape schools and families are currently burdened with.”

“Schools needn’t be in the business of deciding who gets lunch and who doesn’t. It’s costly and contrary to the basic purpose of free education. SB 364 will end this unnecessary bureaucracy and set the table so that every student is entitled to a school meal just as they are entitled to schooling,” she added.

The bill immediately proved popular after it was introduced Wednesday, gaining over two dozen co-authors from the Senate and the Assembly and getting immediate support from numerous school, nutrition, and child advocate groups.

“As the nation’s largest agricultural economy, California farmers and ranchers could be the heroes of food security and feeding our future, our children,” director of TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation Kat Taylor said on Wednesday. “SB 364 is a bold vision to make California the first state in the nation to provide all kids with nutritious, locally grown school food.”

Financial, logistical issues with SB 364

However, many groups have also opposed the bill, stating that it needs significant changes and details to become viable. One of the largest points of contention for opponents of the bill is the lack of funding, as SB 364 doesn’t say where the money will come from to pay for meals for all students.

“You’ll be hard-pressed to find a politician willing to stop the free meal program,” education policy advisor Howard Swift told the Globe. “After all, the National School Lunch Act was passed by Congress in 1946 after so many men drafted for service in World War II had to be rejected for being in poor health that was primarily associated with malnutrition as a child, especially in very rural and poor urban areas. At the very least, it’s a national security thing.”

“And with the number of children not getting enough to eat during the Pandemic, you know, we don’t want those levels to come back again. But we also need to know how we’re going to pay for all of it. Federal and state programs pay for free or reduced-price meals already for low-income children. In California, 3.9 million, or around 63% of students, are currently eligible. So with these free meals for all, we need to know where the money for the other 37% is coming from. Skinner isn’t saying, and for many, that’s crazy. That’s a lot of money coming from who knows where.”

“It’s also a logistical nightmare. You would need to order enough food for all students, but not every student will get it. So that means a lot of extra food that will need to be used later for another lunch. And that means you either needs more regular orders, which costs more, or more preserved food, which isn’t very healthy. More details are needed there, because it’s very difficult to operate a food service where you have no idea how many will be eating that day. Ever go to a large party where some people who didn’t RSVP show up and food and drinks ran out very early on? Same principle, only imagine some kids not being able to eat because of it. She doesn’t even address this in the bill.”

“We need to figure out these things first.”

If approved, SB 364 would make California the first state to have a free lunch program for all children in the United States.

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16 thoughts on “Bill To Make School Lunches Free for All Californian Students Introduced in Senate

  1. I have an idea! How about the parents make lunch for their kids? When I went to school in the sixties and seventies in California there were no free lunches or breakfasts. My elementary school and others in the district had no cafeteria. Students would bring their lunch to school or if they lived nearby they would go home for lunch. We also would eat breakfast before going to school. This was the parents responsibility! None of the students went hungry. When I went to junior high school and then high school there were cafeterias but you paid for your lunch. Maybe I’m out of touch with the times but why is it the school’s responsibility to feed kids?

  2. This is a duplicative program, for one thing, what with Dems practically going door-to-door and advertising non-stop on the airwaves to sign everyone up for dependency on CalFresh (food stamps), and I think making breakfast and lunch out of what’s obtained there is better to build family bonds and care for everyone involved — the parents, their kids, and the schools.

    Hasn’t Nancy Skinner done enough to push government dependency by now? The schools aren’t even open, for heaven’s sake. Oh, I know, they have school curbside pickup now. Anyway, maybe she should collect her wall plaque or her statuette or whatever for a job well done and head home. Or maybe help to work to correct, or even speak about, that pesky EDD debacle that has cost us a tidy $30 BILLION. Or apply herself to any of a number of other urgent California problems that plague us all.

    And by the way, the “Tom” in “TomKat Ranch” is Tom Steyer, former failed candidate for President. Anything he (or his wife) endorses I would reject out of hand at this point, having had my fill of his nonsense for many, many, many, many years. But that’s me.

  3. The day the LA Times ran a hysterical story about how the school kiddies were too fat I talked to a LA school principal who told me that not only did the kids get a free lunch they also got a free breakfast, and then Another free breakfast. Other schools in his area also handed out free bakery good after school. I am sure these woke morons cannot see any link to their “free” food and the obese kids.

    1. CW: Pretty sure I’m telling you something you already know, but for everyone else: Back when I was watching my local school district the leftist school activists would run around signing up every possible child and family for the “Free and Reduced Breakfast/Lunch Program,” even those who didn’t need the assistance. They did this to be able to claim a high poverty count, which would then qualify the school district for extra federal dollars. Probably state dollars too. It was a racket then and it’s a racket now.

  4. The free lunch kids I’m sure their parents are also receiving food stamps, so somebody in that family out to get their lazy self out of bed and fix breakfast and pack a lunch! Like John the Patriot said, my Mom cooked breakfast for the family and packed lunches for us kids and my Dad.

  5. I’m ok with this. It was always weird – the lunch period – because my parents didn’t provide money for lunch for me. My dad said he paid child support to my mother and then she didn’t pay or provide lunch, so I didn’t have any lunch. I always hated lunch period.

    1. Thomas Busse: Certainly do not intend to blame anyone who needs a helping hand during any rough patch in life. But these Dem super-majority legislators are endlessly up to no good and constantly need to be called out on it. As you know.

  6. Oh for crying out loud…

    Of course a Berkeley Democrat (Who looks like ET in that picture, by the way) would espouse free meals for life…
    What’s next? Free clothing and a BMW, too???

    This whole Democrat-sponsored, cradle to grave “care package” in exchange for lifetime voting for the ne’er do well class of freeloaders is absolutely nauseating…

    No wonder California is in the shape that it is, and can’t take care of infrastructure and public service… They’re too busy pandering to feel-good, government overreach social justice pandering programs like this one…

  7. Feeding kids is a parental responsibility. Not the state’s taxpayers. Especially the millions of illegal aliens that should not even be in our schools. I’m not inclined to pay higher taxes for them.

  8. “FREE”

    Gov’t does not operate FREE

    this term is used as doublespeak for you will pay for it by increased taxation

    When they say something will be FREE —->They are LYING

  9. NO! How about they pack their own lunch. What the hell is welfare for? If you can’t feed your kids 3 meals a day don’t have one!! Stop taking my money!!!!!

  10. Howard Smith does not know what he is talking about as districts have to figure out how much to serve now. Making everyone free wouldn’t be hard to figure out the numbers of students that would eat. There would be no need to change the quality of food.

  11. What everyone is failing to realize is that lunch should be a part of the “free” educational experience. Transportation, or riding the bus, is free for students, books are free, education is free, why should lunch not be free as well. Children must be fed in order to learn. You will realize when children are not hungry they perform better at school and they tend to have less behavior issues.

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