March 2, 2020

NM expands free school meals

A bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will provide free breakfast and lunch to thousands of low-income public school students who have been required to pay a reduced fee for meals through a federal program. 

House Bill 10, funded through a $650,000 appropriation to the Public Education Department that was included in the main state spending bill for fiscal year 2021, will eliminate copays of 30 cents or 40 cents per meal for about 12,500 students across the state who qualify for federal reduced-price breakfasts and lunches.

“A 40-cent copay should never come between a child and the food they need to grow and learn,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release.

Her signature on HB 10 came on the first day of National School Breakfast Week.

The national nonprofit Food Research & Action Center, in its recently released school breakfast scorecard, found New Mexico ranks third in the nation, behind West Virginia and Vermont, for the ratio of students receiving free or reduced-priced lunches who also take advantage of school breakfast programs.

For every 100 New Mexico students who eat subsidized lunches, 69.4 also eat breakfast at school, the nonprofit said.

“This school year, New Mexico is on track to serve more than 13,500,000 school breakfasts,” said Public Education Cabinet Secretary Ryan Stewart said in a news release. “That’s nearly 14 million opportunities to demonstrate to our students that we are invested in ensuring they have the nutrition they need to be able to focus in the classroom and retain what they are learning.”

According to federal guidelines, children in households with an income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for free school meals — $33,475 or less per year for a family of four — while those with household income at or below 185 percent of the poverty level — $47,638 or less for a family of four — are eligible for reduced-priced meals.

Children in households participating in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations — as well as foster kids, migrants, homeless children, runaway youth and Head Start participants — also are eligible for free school meals.