Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meets Michael Sanborn, the school nutrition program director for Gorham Schools, at Gorham Middle School’s cafeteria on Tuesday. The secretary was touring the school with Gov. Janet Mills and Rep. Chellie Pingree. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Gorham Middle School on Tuesday, providing an opportunity for the state to showcase Maine’s new universal free school lunch program.

Gov. Janet Mills, with approval from the Legislature, provided $27 million in her 2022 supplemental budget to cover the cost of school meals. Her decision came after Congress did not extend the USDA’s authority to allow students to eat school meals free of charge in the 2022-23 school year.

The free school lunch program makes Maine only the second state in the nation to make all meals free at public schools.

“We all know that children can’t learn on an empty stomach,” Mills said in a statement. “I’m proud to say that here in Maine, we took nation-leading action to make sure all children can continue to eat for free during the school day. This investment in our children prepares them for future success and gives parents peace of mind. I hope that other states will follow our lead.”

The timing of the visit from a top Biden administration official comes as Mills, a Democrat, and Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, are running for reelection.

During the visit, Vilsack announced $50 million in grants for schools to invest in new food service equipment that will allow them to continue serving nutritious meals.

Comments are no longer available on this story