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Committee to consider free school lunch bill

LIHU‘E — New legislation could make it possible for all students in Hawai’i to receive free school lunches, regardless of income.

The proposal would allow all students to receive one free school meal per day beginning in fall of the 2023-24 school year.

State Rep. Scot Z. Matayoshi (D-District 49) introduced House Bill 540 on Jan. 23. HB 540 is scheduled to go before the House Committee on Education on Feb. 9.

Currently, a family of four must earn less than $41,496 annually to qualify for the Federal National School Lunch Program’s free lunches, and less than $59,052 to qualify for reduced price lunches.

All students were able to receive free school meals through a nationwide waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the pandemic, but that ended on June 30, 2022.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the DOE (Department of Education) provided free school lunches to students, so we know they have the capacity and capability,” said Matayoshi in a statement.

Matayoshi is hoping Hawai‘i follows in the footsteps of other states, including Maine and California, which have enacted their own laws to continue universal free school lunches post-pandemic.

“I have been collaborating with the DOE, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, and the United States Department of Agriculture to increase federal subsidies for Hawaiʻi student lunches,” Matayoshi said in a statement. “It is my hope that the state can make up the difference to ensure school lunches are free to all public-school students.”

For the current academic year, lunches cost $2.50 for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and $2.75 for high school students. Students who qualify for a reduced-price lunch pay $0.40.

Kapa‘a Elementary, Koloa and Ke Kula Niʻihau O Kekaha Public Charter School are the only three schools on Kaua‘i currently providing free school lunches to all students through the Community Eligibility Provision, a federal program for schools that primarily serve low-income families.

In an email response to The Garden Island, House Majority Leader Daynette “Dee” Morikawa (D-District 17) of Kaua‘i, House majority leader, said it would be “a huge accomplishment” to pass House Bill 540 without jeopardizing any federal subsidies.

“HB 540 is a very good initiative that will help families to not worry about the costs to pay for school lunches,” she said.

“I hope this bill will be scheduled for a hearing, but I also know that the financial implications will be large.”

Morikawa also mentioned other bills proposing to enact similar policies, specifically House Bill 620 and House Bill 1462.

HB 620, also introduced on Jan. 23, is seeking to make both breakfast and lunch free for all students.

HB 620 detailed numerous benefits associated with universal free school meals, including improved student health and test scores.

Similarly, HB 1462, introduced on Jan. 25, would implement a school lunch subsidy for children who don’t qualify for free or reduced-price lunches under the federal program.

HB 620 and HB 1462 are also scheduled to go before the Committee on Education on Feb. 9.


Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached at 808-652-0638 or
Source: The Garden Island

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