All New Mexico public school students will receive free meals after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law on Monday. This makes New Mexico just the fourth state to guarantee free meals to all public school students. “Today, New Mexico is leading the nation by not only providing free healthy school meals to every student in our state, but we’re also making sure those meals are nutritious foods that kids want to eat,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “When we feed our children, we’re feeding our future – these investments today will yield benefits tomorrow through generations of healthier New Mexicans.”
States throughout the country had universal free school meals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic through federal waivers. The federal COVID-19 emergency declarations will end later this year.
The House of Representatives voted unanimously Sunday night to pass a bill to provide free breakfast and lunch to all New Mexico public school students — regardless of their economic standing. Senate Bill 4 is now on its way to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign it. Lujan Grisham made providing free lunches to all students a priority of hers in this year’s 60-day legislative session. She first brought the idea up during a convention on public health policy in Philadelphia late last year. “Universal free breakfast and lunch will take the focus off of our children’s stomachs and place it on their studies, where they belong,” Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, who introduced the bill, said in an interview after the vote.
When Sherry Hooper, executive director of The Food Depot, talks to the thousands of families across Northern New Mexico who use the regional food bank’s services, she hears a consistent story about household budgets.
First, she said, families pay for fixed expenses: They make rent or mortgage payments; they pay for gas and electricity to keep the lights and heat on; they fuel up vehicles so they can get to work.
What’s left of their meager income, Hooper said, will go toward food. “What we see with families is that the most flexible piece of their budget is their food budget,” she said. “Oftentimes, we see that after paying all of those fixed expenses, there is nothing left for food.”
The situation grows dire. Parents start to skip meals so their children can eat. Cereal bowls are filled with water rather than more expensive milk.
ByRobert Nott and Dillon Mullan, Santa Fe New Mexican |
New Mexico Rep. Willie Madrid, D-Chaparral, knows what it is like to go hungry. As a child growing up in the foster care system, he experienced malnutrition, which led to an eating disorder that still leaves him battling to control his weight. “That’s the hard facts of life,” Madrid said. “I struggle with my weight, have to manage diabetes. I had at-risk issues with food as a kid.”