REPRESENTATIVE MATAYOSHI INTRODUCES BILL FOR UNIVERSAL FREE SCHOOL LUNCHES
Measure promotes relief to Hawaiʻi's families and increased school attendance for keiki
Honolulu, Hawaiʻi – House Bill 540, introduced by Representative Scot Z. Matayoshi (D-49, Kāneʻohe, Maunawili), seeks to provide relief to working class families by allowing keiki enrolled in Hawaiʻi's public schools to receive free school lunches.
"During the pandemic, many families with children experienced hardship," said Representative Matayoshi. "We are directly supporting these families financially, providing nutritious food to our keiki to ensure they are ready to learn."
House Bill 540 states that regardless of a student's eligibility for participation in the Federal National School Lunch Program (NSL), the Hawaiʻi Department of Education (DOE) shall offer one school meal to any asking student at no expense to the student each school day. Currently, a family of four must earn less than $41,496 annually to be eligible for NSL free lunches.
According to the proposed measure, no student shall be denied a meal purely due to inability to pay. If the measure passes, Representative Matayoshi hopes for the program to begin fall of the 2023–2024 school year.
"During the pandemic, the DOE provided free school lunches to students, so we know they have the capacity and capability," said Representative Matayoshi. "I have been collaborating with the DOE, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, and the United States Department of Agriculture to increase federal subsidies for Hawaiʻi student lunches. It is my hope that the State can make up the difference to ensure school lunches are free to all public-school students."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s school nutritional waivers made free school meals universal throughout the pandemic, and the program ended June 30, 2022. Some states, like Maine and California, have enacted their own laws establishing universal free school lunches. Representative Matayoshi hopes for Hawaiʻi to follow suit.
According to the National Education Association, one out of six children in America lacks consistent access to adequate nutrition. Research supports that students' comprehension and attendance increase when they take part in school food programs.
House Bill 540 passed first reading this morning, January 23, 2023. To track the progress of Bill 540, click here.
House Communications: Cathy Lee | firstname.lastname@example.org