It’s that time of year again — students are back in school. Though we all wish our kids were heading back to the classroom under better circumstances, the important thing is that they are back full-time, in-person. I heard from so many folks in the community throughout the last school year about the struggles they faced between balancing work, child care, a hybrid learning schedule and all of life’s other commitments. As the parent of a high school student, I know how difficult it was.

Now, as we begin the new school year, I wanted to share a couple important changes we made in the Legislature during the previous session that you and your family should know about.

One huge issue in our state is child hunger. No kid should ever go without a meal, but unfortunately an estimated 1 in 6 children in Maine currently don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. I’m proud to share, however, that this session we took a critical step in the fight to end child hunger. In the bipartisan two-year budget that we passed, we made school meals free for every single student. Traditionally, only certain students qualified to receive free meals based on their families’ income. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Many students might be right above the cutoff for qualifying, yet still face tough financial situations at home and go without food at times. Additionally, many students who do qualify for free meals are often the subject of bullying or feel shame because they get free meals. Students will even choose to go without a meal just to avoid this humiliation, whether it be self-perceived or real. Making meals free for all will ensure every student, regardless of financial status, gets a meal and has the energy they need to learn and grow.

Though meals will be free, school districts are still asking families to fill out paperwork that would qualify them for these free meals. This is a federal requirement in order for schools to collect federal dollars needed to help pay for these meals. To find the forms, visit maine.gov/doe/schools/nutrition/studenteligibility. If you need assistance or have questions with verification reports or requirements, you can contact the Department’s Child Nutrition Specialist David Hartley at [email protected] or 624-6878.

In addition to making all school meals free, the Legislature also took steps to improve the quality of food in our schools, while supporting Maine farmers and food producers. We passed a law that builds on a program that provides school districts with funding to purchase local food, and increases the types of foods that can be bought with those funds. The bill, sponsored by my colleague Sen. Eloise Vitelli, will help make sure our students can get nutritious, Maine grown food and will also give our farmers an additional market for their products. A win-win, if you ask me!

Finally, I want to take a moment to recognize the school staff and volunteers who made sure our students and families got their meals throughout the pandemic. These folks were critical in making sure that students continued to get food even as they were home every day. Their service does not go unnoticed.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of assistance to you or your family. You can send me an email at [email protected] or call my office at 287-1515.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: