For millions of children, school is more than a place of learning. They are also a place to get food that they would otherwise have gone without.
Now all California college students can get this food – no questions asked.
Before the start of the pandemic, more than 3.6 million California students were entitled to free or discounted meals at school. That’s almost 60% of all students in the state.
âSometimes they have struggling homes or families can’t cook when the kids have to go to class at that time,â college student Felix Gutierrez said of students needing free meals.
Advocates believe the number of students eligible for free meals is well above those 3.6 million.
In order to qualify for the federal free meals program, parents had to provide information on income and immigration status. When the pandemic hit, the federal government waived income requirements for free meals, allowing schools to provide food to anyone who needed it.
In the newly passed state budget, all California public school students will receive free no-questions-asked breakfast and lunch.
Those who support the program say language barriers and immigration status may have prevented children who were already eligible to receive free meals from enrolling. By making free food available to every child, the stigma of receiving free meals disappears.
âIt’s awesome,â said parent Chris Vasquez. “I think it’s a good thing for us!”
The Santa Ana School District has used its fleet of buses to deliver bags of groceries to neighborhoods where its students live, while the Unified School District of Los Angeles has implemented take-out sites on district campuses.
âWe knew that hundreds of thousands of children relied on us to provide meals at school, so we put in place a food effort for children and adults, providing more than 134 million meals,â said on June 7 the director of LAUSD, Austin Beutner.
The new state budget provides $ 650 million for the universal school meals program.