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State lawmakers: Free school meals could return in weeks

Free school meals for all Connecticut students – at least through the end of the school year – could return within weeks under a proposal unveiled Thursday.

John Craven

Jan 18, 2023, 3:10 PM

Updated 521 days ago

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Free school meals for all Connecticut students – at least through the end of the school year – could return within weeks under a proposal unveiled Thursday.
Most districts are now charging for breakfast and lunch for the first time since 2020. No-cost meals were initially covered under federal COVID waivers – and later by $30 million in state funding. That money has now run out, leaving parents scrambling.
"Dec. 1, we went back to a paid system, and the effects were immediate – and they were awful," said Jen Bove, the nutrition director for East Hampton Public Schools. "I spent almost 100% of my first week of paid meals on the phone with parents."
Now, state lawmakers are considering emergency legislation to fund an extension through the rest of this school year. A full vote could happen on Jan. 25, according to state Sen. Saud Anwar (D-South Anwar), co-chair of the legislature's Public Health committee.
"A lot of our children in our state are hungry," Anwar said at a news conference with End Hunger CT. "They cannot learn; they cannot be well. And we cannot just stand by."
Anwar said top legislative leaders are meeting with Gov. Ned Lamont's office to iron out details. A spokesperson for House Republicans confirmed they are part of the talks too.
The temporary extension would be an "emergency certified" bill that bypasses the normal public hearing process. It could cost up to $50 million.
Later this session, lawmakers will also consider at least three bills to make no-cost meals permanent. Connecticut would be the fourth state to feed all students for free.
"Since free meals stopped, I have friends who don't eat lunch because they don't have food at home and don't have money to buy it," said Hadley Hamilton-Moras, a fifth grader at Charter Oak Academy in West Hartford.
Not everyone lost free lunches. In lower-income districts such as Norwalk and Bridgeport – as well as some individual schools in Stratford and Greenwich – all meals are covered under a separate federal program called Community Eligibility Provision.
In addition, Fairfield Public Schools is using local funds to extend free meals through the end of the school year.
For everyone else, you have to sign up for the National School Lunch Program. But it's extremely difficult to qualify. A family of four can't earn more than $36,075 per year for free meals or $51,338 for reduced-price lunches. Kids also qualify if they're enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or a federally recognized Head Start program.
"We have a huge amount of families who make too much to qualify for free or reduced meals but are still struggling financially," said Bove.


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