A close-up of a student's hand chopping a red onion on an orange cutting board. Massachusetts is one of many states making greater commitments to food education and nourishing school meals through food policy.
A student chops an onion in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The state is one of many making greater commitments to food education and nourishing school meals through food policy.

Congress is in recess this month, and many members of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are home in their districts. Many of these lawmakers are attending farm- and nutrition-related events in their states and receiving feedback from constituents. Now is a great time to contact your elected officials and urge them to support programs in the Farm Bill that will increase access to nutritious meals in schools for all children.

Here’s what else is going on in child nutrition and school meals policy. 

House Agriculture Committee Chair Thinks Farm Bill Will Be Delayed

The update: House Agriculture Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) has said that he does not believe Congress has time to pass a farm bill by September 30. This date is key because it is when programs authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill begin to expire. While an extension of those programs is likely, it is disappointing that new programs will be delayed. 

“I think there’s going to have to be an extension only because there’s a lot of moving parts,” said Rep. Thompson at Penn State’s Ag Progress Days. Thompson said he would release his bill once GOP House leaders schedule a week for floor debate of the legislation. However, there is a possibility that it will not be this calendar year.  

Why it matters: The Farm Bill funds everything related to agriculture and nutrition, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Students whose families qualify for SNAP automatically get free school meals. Any advances in the policies FoodCorps supports will occur as part of the Farm Bill. Delays in legislation put additional pressure on lawmakers to make deals that may not be in the best interests of FoodCorps or the students we serve. 

What you can do: Use social media or email to contact legislators and urge them to prioritize nutrition through a robust Farm Bill. Hearing from constituents is often a good motivator for lawmakers to advance legislation.

FoodCorps Working to Expand Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program

The update: FoodCorps is working with the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) to expand the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) in the Farm Bill. The FFVP was established in the 2002 Farm Bill, and provides elementary students in qualifying schools with a nutritious snack. Many FoodCorps service members work directly with the FFVP in schools, providing food education to complement the free fruit/vegetable snack for students.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has authored a bill that expands this program to more schools, but his bill also pits different Farm Bill priorities against each other. Still, it is great news to have a Republican champion this effort, as we will need other Republicans to support this expansion (and Rubio is not on the Senate Agriculture Committee). This bill has been co-authored by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). 

Why it matters: With Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House, bipartisan support is critical to getting anything passed. FoodCorps and our allies with the IFPA will be meeting with Sen. Rubio in the coming weeks to determine what our next steps will be and how we can expand this successful program to reach more students while considering other important priorities in the bill.

What you can do: Stay tuned for updates when Congress returns from recess in the first week of September. 

Massachusetts Becomes Eighth State to Provide Permanent Free School Meals for All

The update: In early August, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey signed free school meals for all into law. Public schools will provide breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge regardless of household income, making Massachusetts the eighth state to take this step. This is a huge win for kids and families.

Why it matters: Massachusetts joins California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Vermont as states with free school meals for all. The more states enact this important policy, the more likely it is that Congress will get the message and implement free school meals for all children across the country. Over 21% of the nation’s population now lives in a state with free school meals for all. 

What you can do: Celebrate! Use social media to congratulate these states and their leaders—you can even share FoodCorps’ posts—and encourage your state to follow suit.

And one more thing: In addition to school meals for all, the Massachusetts state budget also included investments in food education. Funds were included for state agency food literacy coordinators, and funds will be available for schools to take field trips to farms. Professional development opportunities will be offered for teachers to learn about the food system, and a pilot program will enable several districts to hire food literacy coordinators. These are crucial steps forward for food education and access across Massachusetts.

Connecticut to Expand Access to Free School Meals

The update: Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced plans to expand Connecticut’s free school meals program for the 2023-2024 school year, enabling more students to receive access to nutritious breakfast and lunch. The plan uses $16 million of funding the state received from the American Rescue Plan Act for the program. The funding will be used for no-cost breakfast for all Connecticut students next school year. Additionally, students in families who qualify for reduced-price lunch will be able to participate in lunch at no cost. 

“This investment ensures that each student begins their day with a nourishing meal, fostering learning and growth,” Gov. Lamont said in a press release. “Additionally, removing the family portion of the cost of lunch for students eligible for reduced-price meals means more money in their pockets for other essential needs. By ensuring access to nutritious meals, we empower our students to excel academically and in all facets of life.”

Why it matters: The governor and Connecticut state legislature are showing and celebrating their commitment to investing in school meals. While FoodCorps and our advocacy partners want to see permanent school breakfast and lunch for all Connecticut students, this is a step toward our vision for every child accessing free breakfast and lunch every day at school.