BOSTON (WWLP) – Currently, students across the Commonwealth can receive free school lunches.

Thursday, hunger advocates gathered in support of making school lunch free for all students, saying this isn’t a socioeconomic issue, it’s a learning issue. In Massachusetts 1 in 5 households with children are food insecure. And the pandemic shined a light on how important free school breakfast and lunch are.

During the pandemic, free school breakfast and lunch were made free, in June 2022, that program ended. Massachusetts was one of five states that continued the program for the past year. Now legislators want to make that permanent.

A bipartisan bill in both the House and Senate would require breakfast and lunch be made free to all students regardless of family income, require that the cost of those meals be covered by federal and state funding, and help schools maximize federal dollars by supporting SNAP outreach to families.

“We know free school meals for all fill the gap of our previous system that left as much as a quarter or more students who were food insecure behind. And we know that free school meals for all is not just about the nutritional and academic value, but frankly, the financial relief for public school parents raising kids in one of the most expensive states in the country.” Andy Vargas of Haverhill

On top of feeding children, this legislation would remove the stigma many families face when deciding if they should apply for free or discounted school meals. In the previous budget, this program cost $110 million.

Maine, California, and Colorado have already made free universal school meals permanent.