Coalition supports Healthy School Meals for All bill sponsored by Rep. Caldwell, Sen. Cano

 Coalition supports Healthy School Meals for All bill sponsored by Rep. Caldwell, Sen. Cano
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Providence, R.I. – A coalition of more than 30 local organizations joined together today in the Statehouse library in support of “Healthy School Meals for All,” a policy which would offer free breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of their household income, as part of the school day.

The group is supporting proposed legislation in the Senate (SB68) and the House (HB5639), sponsored by Senate Committee on Education Chairwoman Sandra Cano and Deputy Majority Leader Justine Caldwell respectively.

“We saw a ‘Healthy School Meals for All’ policy in action during the COVID pandemic when federal funding was provided from the USDA to offer meals free of charge to all students,” said RI AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Crowley. “With federal waivers expired, the State of Rhode Island has the opportunity to lead and ensure our children are hunger-free and ready to learn.

“Research shows that empty bellies are a barrier to learning for children and youth and school meals play a critical role in student health and academic success. We can improve learning, eliminate student meal debt and shame, and foster improved quality in school meal programs by making ‘Healthy School Meals for All’ permanent in every RI school district.”

“The RI Life Index identified 41 percent of households with children as food insecure in 2022, meaning families struggled to afford adequate food, placing the children of that household at risk for hunger,” said Rhode Island Community Food Bank CEO Andrew Schiff. “By putting in place a ‘Healthy School Meals for All’ policy, Rhode Island can ease the burden on families, ensure students have access to nutritious meals so they can learn and thrive, and we can reduce hunger risk. With a holistic approach to policy that prioritizes children and families, Rhode Island can begin to meet this hunger crisis.”

“I see firsthand the stress and shame families who carry meal debt endure in my work as Family and Community Engagement Coordinator for South Kingstown Schools,” said Karen Buetens, a certified school social worker.  “Many families currently do not qualify for free or reduced lunch but are financially stressed due to the high prices of food, housing, and utilities. They are charged the full rate for breakfast and lunch and their balances grow along with the family tension. The free breakfast and lunch offered during the pandemic showed us that it doesn’t have to be this way – ‘Healthy School Meals for All’ provides equity and alleviates stigma, stress, and shame.”

A “Healthy School Meals for All” policy ensures all students are hunger-free and ready to learn, reduces stigma associated with eating school meals, ends the problem of unpaid school meal debt, eases administrative burden for schools, and supports school nutrition finances and operations. It is an important step toward a holistic investment in education, equity in our schools, and an impactful action to address hunger in the Ocean State.

Coalition of Supporting Organizations

  • American Academy of Pediatrics – RI Chapter
  • American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
  • American College of Cardiology – RI Chapter
  • American Heart Association
  • Aquidneck Community Table
  • Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island
  • Care Transformation Collaborative RI
  • Farm Fresh RI
  • National Education Association Rhode Island
  • Oasis International
  • Parents Leading for Educational Equity RI
  • Progreso Latino
  • Protect Our Healthcare RI
  • Providence Healthy Communities Office
  • Rhode Island Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics
  • Rhode Island AFL-CIO
  • Rhode Island Alliance of YMCAs
  • Rhode Island Association of School Business Officials
  • Rhode Island Association of School Committees
  • Rhode Island Association of School Principals
  • Rhode Island Certified School Nurse Teachers Association
  • Rhode Island Community Food Bank
  • Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals
  • Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition
  • Rhode Island Kids Count
  • Rhode Island Medical Society
  • Rhode Island PTA
  • Rhode Island Public Health Institute
  • Rhode Island School Superintendents’ Association
  • Rhode Island State Nurses Association
  • Rhode Island Student Assistance Services
  • United Way of Rhode Island
  • West Warwick Health Equity Zone
  • Young Voices

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