New Mexico State Senators Michael Padilla (center) and Leo Jaramillo (right), wearing dark suits and coats, stand at a distance while a crowd watches them speak. They are outdoors at Youth for Food Day, an event advocating for supportive child nutrition policy in New Mexico.
New Mexico State Senators Michael Padilla (center) and Leo Jaramillo (right), the original sponsors of the state’s Healthy Universal School Meals bill, speak to advocates gathered for Youth for Food Day at the New Mexico State Capitol. Sens. Padilla and Jaramillo announced to the crowd that the program has been fully funded as a recurring item in the state budget, ensuring the continuation of healthy school meals for all New Mexico children for years to come. Photo by Tatyana Trujillo.

It’s a new year, and we’re feeling a renewed sense of energy around our policy and advocacy work to ensure all kids have access to nourishing school meals and food education. Here are the stories—and the people behind them—to know as our work continues.

Celebrating Policy at the New Mexico Youth for Food Day

This month, FoodCorps’ New Mexico staff helped to organize and coordinate the inaugural Youth for Food Day, an advocacy event at the State Capitol in beautiful and historic Santa Fe, New Mexico.

More than 150 advocates for child nutrition and free school meals—including students, parents, and community champions from all corners of New Mexico—gathered to thank lawmakers and the governor for making history with their ongoing support and full funding for SB4, the Healthy Universal School Meals Act of 2023.

This landmark bill, championed by State Senators Michael Padilla and Leo Jaramillo, ensures that every child in the state has access to free, nutritious, and delicious meals at school, regardless of their family’s income or background. This is a huge win for New Mexico’s students, farmers, and the local food systems economy. Ongoing funding ensures stability for the program well into the future.

In addition to New Mexico, several other states have been hosting advocacy events at their capitals, including Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and New Jersey. Stay tuned for more updates about policy moves in these states!

Iowa Healthy School Meals for All Day

FoodCorps’ Iowa staff are part of a new coalition of Iowa organizations and advocates championing policies to support school meals for all. The Iowa Healthy School Meals for All Coalition began meeting in October 2023 and have spent their first few months coordinating to build momentum for legislation that supports every child’s access to free, nutritious meals.

In February, the coalition held its first Hill Day at the Iowa Capitol, where advocates shared information with legislators to increase awareness of the need for healthy school meals for all and to lay the foundation for new policy proposals in the future.

Up next: the coalition will be launching a website and resource map to help advocates take action with their legislators.

Moving the Needle on State Child Nutrition Policy

Just a couple of months into the year, we’ve seen lots of momentum for child nutrition policy and advocacy at the state level. 

We’re thrilled that in New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy has signed NJ A5684 into law. This bill expands eligibility for free breakfast and lunch under the Working Class Families Anti-Hunger Act, allowing more families to participate. This bill is being used by School Meals for All New Jersey advocates as a stepping stone and rallying point for the Campaign that ensures all New Jersey students have access to nutritious meals at school.

Our partners in Connecticut have been working to support the rollout of CT Grown for CT Kids, a successful farm to school grants program that secured $1 million in funding last year. The program recently awarded 53 grants for farm to school projects across the state. 

As co-leaders of the Massachusetts Food for Massachusetts Kids Coalition, we’re working on securing support to move forward a bill that would bolster farm to school grants and local food incentives. FoodCorps Massachusetts staff have connected with their elected officials—and activated our state networks of partners and alums to do the same—before this month’s deadline.

And in Michigan, our Director of State Policy, Nathan Luis Medina, recently wrote a letter to the editor responding to a negative portrayal of school meals for all. The letter and original piece were published in the Detroit News

Celebrating FoodCorps Leaders Old and New

FoodCorps recently welcomed Ashanti Lewis as our new Director of Federal Government Relations. Ashanti has been leading advocacy and government relations efforts for the past 20 years, most recently at Share Our Strength. We’re so lucky to have her join FoodCorps, and we look forward to her leadership on equity-centered advocacy for school meals and child nutrition. 

We’re also excited to hear that Kumar Chandran, FoodCorps’ former (and first) Policy Director, has been appointed Acting Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services with the USDA, where he will continue to champion important issues around hunger and nutrition.

What’s Next: Congress Working to Avoid Potential Government Shutdown

We are keeping an eye on the upcoming deadline to avoid a full or partial government shutdown. Congress must pass two sets of funding bills, with respective deadlines of March 1 and March 8, in order to avert a shutdown and keep all systems and services running. 

Even a partial government shutdown could impact millions of WIC recipients—namely mothers and their kids under the age of five. It’s critical that Congress passes a spending bill that ensures families can buy the food they need to be nourished and well. 

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