McGovern bill would increase federal reimbursement for school meals

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-12-2023 2:01 PM

WASHINGTON — With new legislation, U.S. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) hopes to permanently increase the federal reimbursement for school meals.

“This is one piece of the puzzle, but it is an important piece,” McGovern said in a phone interview.

His bill, HR 1269, is called the “Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act.” The proposal would raise the federal reimbursement level for all free, reduced-price and paid-rate school meals by 45 cents for every lunch served and 28 cents for every breakfast served, with yearly adjustments.

During the Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health that the White House hosted in September 2022, legislators made a plan to address food insecurity across the nation. A conference like this had not been held in Washington for more than 50 years.

School meal reimbursement was one of the issues discussed. With McGovern being a nationwide leader in the fight to end hunger and improve nutrition, he is now putting forth many bills that coincide with plans discussed during September’s conference.

McGovern explained the bill, if passed, would provide flexibility, allowing school districts to make individual changes to better provide nutritious meals to students. He argues that higher food costs are adding to the urgency of this legislation, and a permanent solution will give school districts certainty as they upgrade their meal programs and plan for the future.

Examples of what schools could do with higher reimbursements include having more purchasing power to buy food from local farms. Schools can also use the funds to their upgrade their kitchens, allowing them to better prepare meals. Another idea suggested is to provide children with backpacks filled with healthy food to take home during breaks and weekends.

“The more reimbursements we get, the higher-quality food we can serve,” said Matt Ehrenworth, superintendent of the Athol-Royalston Regional School District. He added that McGovern’s bill would particularly help rural school districts to have good breakfast and lunch options.

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Amy Proietti, chair of the Greenfield School Committee, said the free food programs offered by Greenfield’s public schools are extremely popular. She noted the district has done more outreach, including through a Summer Eats kick-off event and by hosting food trucks, to provide families with the food they need.

“We would absolutely support universal meals,” Proietti commented.

McGovern is an advocate for universal free meals in schools for all students. He is working with the state Healey-Driscoll administration as well as the federal Biden-Harris administration to make universal meals a reality.

For now, McGovern said increasing the federal reimbursement for school meals is just one step toward larger goals of ending food insecurity and reducing poverty.

“We need to raise the minimum wage so we don’t need these programs,” McGovern continued. He said he hopes to increase benefits for food service workers in schools, but he also hopes to increase the minimum wage overall so families can afford to pay for food as costs rise across the U.S.

“I support him and his endeavors to fight food insecurities,” Ehrenworth said of McGovern and his proposed bill. “This is a great step in the right direction.”

“I believe food is a human right,” McGovern said. “This is one step toward that. We need to fight every inch until we end hunger.”

To view the full text of HR 1269, visit bit.ly/3ZDrvSP.

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.

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