I want to share some exciting news with you about a bill that passed during the 2022 state legislative session concerning school meals and addressing hunger among our school aged children.
A little background on the issue:
In 2020 the Legislature required all schools that are eligible for USDA’s Community Eligibility Program (CEP) to participate in the program if it cost the same amount to provide free meals for the entire school as it did to just serve those who qualified for free and reduced lunch. Currently, 491 schools in Washington operate CEP and serve free meals to around 204,000 students with 9 more schools serving 3,300 students coming online soon.
The 2022 Legislature decided to continue their work on this important issue and passed HB 1878 by a vote in the House of 93-3 and the Senate with a vote of 45-4. It requires all schools to participate in CEP if they are eligible under USDA rules. This will expand the program to an additional 626 schools and over 92,000 students. It also requires the state to cover the excess costs of implementing the program so this isn’t an unfunded mandate on schools.
This bill was championed by Rep. Marcus Ricelli (his name may be familiar to you as he was a champion for our newborn congenital heart defect screening bill, better known as pulse ox, a few years ago).
“Food is health. Consistent access to nutritious food is a part of how we protect kids from getting sick while ensuring they have the fuel they need to learn, grow, and play,” said Riccelli. “And free school meals are the most effective way to ensure that all of our kids are getting the food they need to thrive.”
“This is an important step on our path to ending childhood hunger in Washington. I was hopeful with pending federal action we could go even further, but feeding kids can’t wait,” said Riccelli. “Without increasing costs on schools, HB 1878 will let us serve free school meals to, at minimum, an additional 92,000 students including 12,000 in the Spokane area. In addition to nutrition for health, we know hungry kids can’t learn.”
Governor Inslee signed the bill in March, and it will be in effect for the 2022-23 school year!
hero_image_alt_text===Elementary age kids sitting at a school lunch table
thumbnail_alt_text===Elementary age kids sitting at a school lunch table