CNS school meals

Volunteer Megan Mastrofrancesco, a student studying social work at Virginia Commonwealth University, adds milk to lunch bags in the George Wythe High School cafeteria. 

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill this month to provide free school meals for 109,000 more public school students in the commonwealth.

Danica Roem 2019 mug

Del. Danica Roem, D-13th

House Bill 5113, was introduced by Del. Danica Roem, D-13th, and passed the chamber unanimously. Roem’s bill requires eligible public elementary and secondary schools to apply for the Community Eligibility Provision through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.

“School food should be seen as an essential service that is free for everyone regardless of their income,” Roem said.

The program allows all students in an eligible school to receive free breakfast and lunch. Currently, 425 schools are eligible for CEP but don’t take part in the program, according to a document that details the financial impact of the legislation. More than 420 schools and 200,000 students participated in CEP during the 2018 to 2019 school year, according to the Virginia Department of Education. 

The bill allows eligible schools to opt out of the program if participating is not financially possible.

Most Virginia food banks have purchased twice as much food each month since the pandemic started, as compared to last year, according to Eddie Oliver, executive director of Federation of Virginia Food Banks.

“We're just seeing a lot of need out there and we know that school meal programs are really the front line of ensuring that kids in Virginia have the food they need to learn and thrive,” Oliver said.

Virginia school districts qualify for CEP if they have 40% or more enrolled students in a specified meal program, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It also includes homeless, runaway, migrant and foster children, Roem said.

Sandy Curwood, director of the Virginia Department of Education Office of School Nutrition Programs, said school districts receive federal reimbursement based on a formula. 

“Making sure that children have access to good healthy food, and particularly through school meals, I think is a great opportunity,” Curwood said.

The federal government will reimburse schools who have more than 62.5% students who qualify for free meals, Roem said. Schools with between 55% and 62.4% students enrolled will receive between 80% and 99% reimbursement. 

“If HB 5113 is law, how their children will eat during the school day will be one less worry for students and their families,” said Semora Ward, community organizer for the Hampton Roads-based Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative. The meals are available whether children are physically in schools or attending virtual classes.

The Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative has raised $8,000 in the past three years for unpaid school meals in Hampton and Newport News, according to Ward.

“While we are pleased with these efforts and the outpouring of community support, we should have never had to do this in the first place,” she said. 

Roem was one of several legislators that took on the USDA earlier this year to not require students to be present when receiving free school meals during the pandemic. The Virginia General Assembly passed Roem’s bill earlier this year that allows school districts to distribute excess food to students eligible for the School Breakfast Program or National School Lunch Program administered by the USDA.

HB 5113 has been referred to the Senate Education and Health Committee. 

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(6) comments

Bluto

The title is misleading (as always). Nothing is free as this food is paid for by someone.

Do kids not get food at home?

If not, why should the taxpayer pay the bill?

Should these parents not be responsible?

Where are the "social workers" taking these kids away from these negligent parents?

The other side of "rights" is "responsibility"; why is this never discussed anymore?

JosephGeorge4Neabsco

It’s great to know Bluto is all in for defunding the police so counties can pay for more social workers and other health care professionals to be placed in the schools at a ratio where children can be properly monitored and cared for. We appreciate your support! 👍🏼

Bluto

Surely you realize my social worker comments are meant to be sarcastic. You can try to be clever and twist my words.

Instead of trying to "re-imagine" the police and affecting the security of all citizens, why don't you get on board and "re-imagine" the failing public education system.

JosephGeorge4Neabsco

So then you're being sarcastic with "The other side of "rights" is "responsibility"; why is this never discussed anymore?", correct? And you're being sarcastic with "Should these parents not be responsible?" right?

someone

What about free clothes?

JosephGeorge4Neabsco

Many schools conduct clothing drives to assist families that are unable to provide sufficient enough clothing to the students. I’m sure your local schools will be looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks for your support.

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