School meals bill on Baker’s desk also targets “lunch shaming”

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – A bill that aims to ensure students can have access to school meals even if they cannot afford to pay for them is now awaiting action from Gov. Charlie Baker.

The House and Senate sent Baker the bill (H 3999) on Wednesday after passing it back and forth to agree on final language. The legislation requires schools where a majority of students come from low-income families to enroll in federal programs allowing them to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students, with provisions permitting schools or districts to opt out in certain circumstances.

Bill supporters have cited the rise in food and economic insecurity during the pandemic that led to an uptick in participation in programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistances Program. Higher SNAP enrollment means more schools and districts are eligible for the federal school meals programs and can be reimbursed at higher rates for years, Sen. Cindy Creem said when the Senate passed its bill last month.

Taking aim at a practice bill proponents refer to as “lunch shaming,” the legislation would prohibit schools from publicly identifying students who have not paid for their meals, serving a student with meal debt “an alternative meal that is not also available to all students at the cafeteria,” denying meals as a form of punishment, disposing of an already-served meal because of debt or a student’s inability to pay, requiring parents to pay fees in excess of the actual meal costs owed, or banning a student from graduating or participating in school events solely because of unresolved meal debt.

Baker has until Saturday, Oct. 16 to act on the bill.

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