(USNewsMag.com) – Regardless of income, all students in New Mexico will receive free school meals after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill March 27.
In the state budget approved in the last session, New Mexico lawmakers put aside $22 million to fund the program. Funds can also be used to make improvements to school kitchens which allow for the preparation of healthier school lunches.
The legislation includes farm-to-table grants which is aimed to increase the amount of school food that comes from local growers. In the 33 counties in New Mexico, only 19 counties have locally sourced products in their schools, with 168 food businesses, ranchers are farmers providing their products.
The legislation applies to public schools as well as charter schools participating in hee national school lunch program.
It is hoped that unused food can be collected and used by food pantries, as well as other charitable organizations.
According to the New Mexico Public Education Department, about 309,000 New Mexico students are currently eligible for free or reduced lunches which are provided through the National School Lunch Program. With the passage of this legislation, about 70,000 students could be impacted.
Over time, the program is estimated to cost about $27 million and up to $40 million yearly from the state’s general fund.
Free school meals are seen as a way to ensure students have access to meals with a rise seen nationally in unpaid school meals bills.
During the pandemic, federal programs offered free school meals to all students. After that program lapsed, some states elected to continue funding for free school meals.
Maine and California also have put in place permanent programs which provide free school meals to all students. Voters in Colorado approved giving school districts the option to offer free school meals. Vermont and Nevada have introduced legislation which provides $75 million for this school year to extend free school meals.
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