California launches largest free school luncheon in US – Times of India

SAN FRANCISCO: When classrooms in California reopen in the fall, all ..2 million public school students will have the option of free school meals, regardless of family income. This initiative, made possible by an unexpected budget surplus, will be the largest free student luncheon in the country. School officials, lawmakers, anti-hunger organizations and parents are praising free lunch as a pioneering way to prevent the stigma of feeding more hungry children.

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“It’s so historic. It’s life-changing,” said Erin Primer, director of food services for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District on the central coast of California.

Several U.S. cities already offer free school meals for everyone, including New York, Boston, and Chicago. Until recently, however, statewide universal food programs were considered extremely expensive and unrealistic. California became the last state to hold a public event last month, and Maine followed suit shortly after.

“We’ve completely leveled the playground with school meals,” Primer said, adding that the extra funding would help him produce tasty, high-quality foods such as fresh bread, produce and cheese from local producers.

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According to federal regulations, a family of four must earn less than ,000 34,000 a year to opt for free meals and less than 48 48,000 to qualify for low-cost meals. Caps are transferred annually but are based on higher living costs and non-taxable federal poverty in California.

“So it’s not just for extremely poor families and not even for all of them because some people failed to sign up or were afraid to sign up,” says Kat Taylor, a social worker at Ekattvik Center and Tomcat Ranch. Which supported the California plan.

About 0% of California’s students qualify, but experts say the number of children in need of food aid is much higher in a state with huge income inequality. Caste communities are incompletely affected, and immigrant communities in particular are afraid to apply because of forms that ask inclusive questions such as their family income, social security numbers, and children’s immigration status.

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Schools reported a declining percentage of families applying for free and low-cost meals during the Trump administration, who sought to tighten immigration policy and public benefits.

Like statewide school officials, Primer has stories of many children who struggled to pay for school meals or were embarrassed to eat for free. There was a child whose mother was shocked to be called a primer, because she made hundreds of dollars more for qualification; That the father is in the country illegally and feared that he could be deported if he applied for free food; And gradually high school students don’t want to know their friends need free food, so they skip eating.

After the epidemic hit, it provided an incentive for how school meals were served – and for a universal program that had the bipartisan, unanimous support of everything lawmakers had previously followed only targeted bills such as reducing school midday debt.

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After schools closed in March 2020, many converted their parking lots into pickup sites, and federal funding allowed schools to provide meals to anyone. No application, qualifications and no questions asked.

Lots of voting showed how much families depend on food.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest with more than 100,000 students, has distributed more than ০০ 400,000 worth of food a day, spokesman Shannon Huber said. The San Luis Coastal, with 7,500 students, fed 30,000 meals a week at the height of the epidemic, nearly three times as much as before. The district has San Luis Obispo and a prosperous city with low-income areas.

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“I thought it was a pipe dream for a long time,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner, a longtime lawyer for universal free food.

Skinner and other lawmakers, backed by more than 200 organizations in an alliance called “School Mail for All,” pushed for funding in the state budget, while the flow of cash flowed into California. The ২ 222 billion budget provides $ 54 million for the upcoming school year by June 2022 as a complement to the Beadon administration fund, after which, California will spend 6 50,650 million annually.

“If you’re a hungry child, you’re not learning well,” said Skinner, a Democrat representing Berkeley. “When we can only eat universal food, why do we have to overcome the bureaucratic hassle of feeding our children?”

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Senate Education Committee Republicans backed the plan as a way to help families struggling with California’s high-value lifestyle. Sen. Brian Dahle, a Republican in a vast rural area of ​​Northern California, said he used to steal children’s food at children’s schools when cafeteria workers weren’t looking.

“For most of them it was their dinner and if they didn’t finish it they would hide it or take it off someone’s plate,” Dahle said.

The school rarely returns hungry children. However, children who do not qualify and need lunch were billed by their parents and many have incurred huge debts. In recent years, several schoolchildren have threatened not to pay midday or high school graduation threats or to hand over money to indebted students, Skinner’s chief of staff Jessica Bertlow said, who was previously anti-hunger.

Some schools will hire parents to intimidate collectors’ parents, but by the end of the year, schools will have to use ordinary funds to pay off lunch debts, he said.

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For Tina Self, a mother of three, avoiding the cost of a ড 3 school lunch per day would be a huge relief.

“It may seem a little bit, but it helps a lot,” said Self, a San Luis Obispo resident, where it costs $ 5 a gallon for a gallon of gas and the rent is “crazy.”

“Lucky for us the two of us have a job and we have two driving cars,” she said of herself and her husband. “But we’re just building it as it is.”

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Associate Superintendent Tony Old of West Contra Costa Unified School said lunch was almost free at the time.

“There are some things you need to do, just like you need to give students textbooks and computers, and this is one of them,” said Old.

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