Free School Meals For All California Public School Students Begins In August

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Burbank Unified School District office. (Photo By Ross Benson)

All California public school students will be able to receive free school meals in coming years with the passage of the California State budget in June 2021. The USDA program providing free summer meals, administered by Burbank Unified, will end with the final weekly meal pickup at Luther, Muir and Huerta middle schools on Friday, July 9.

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With the approval of the Free School Meals For All Act, funds have been set aside to guarantee free food for all California public school students for the next two years and lawmakers have said the program will continue into the future.

“California [is] the first state to provide universal school meals,” said Senate Budget Committee Chair Nancy Skinner, who introduced the “Free School Meals for All Act of 2021. “I’m especially proud that SB 364, Free School Meals for All, jump started this landmark initiative. I want to express my thanks to the broad coalition in support — ranging from anti-hunger organizations, schools, labor, public health and environmental groups to ranchers and farmers. And thanks to Governor Newsom and the Legislature for championing the cause. It’s based on a simple and powerful premise: Universal schools, universal meals.”

“California once again leads the way by becoming the first state in the country to fund universal school meals for all K-12 students,” said Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-San Fernando Valley). “In my district, it’s not unusual to see school districts with upwards of 85% of its students on free or reduced-price lunch. That’s why I have fought for several years to help make this funding a reality, because no child should ever go hungry. I want to thank the School Meals For All coalition, along with Budget Chairs Phil Ting and Nancy Skinner, for their relentless efforts to preserve the full funding for this budget allocation — our efforts to feed all of California’s students has finally come to fruition.”

During the 2020-21 school year, Burbank Unified School District averaged 10,550 meal per week, disbursed in weekly allotments on Fridays to any student or their family who needed the food. The summer distribution has BUSD averaging about 5,550 meals weekly, according to BUSD Director of Food Services Kathy Sessinghaus.

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The summer meals program, funded by the USDA, will conclude with the Friday, July 9, disbursement, but school officials understand there will still be a need for meal support over the coming weeks until the fall semester begins. The weekly meal distribution has been a way for BUSD to distribute food safely throughout the Covid-19 pandemic while school was held remotely and online.

“There are other locations such as food banks and pantries that continue to offer food supplies to anyone in need,” explained Sessinghaus. “Families who have qualified for free and reduced meal benefits have also been reloaded funds on their P-EBT cards.”

The USDA has extended its reimbursement to public schools for meals for all students, regardless of income, through June 2022. California’s Free School Meals For All Act will ensure that any student can access needed food past that date.

“When school begins on August 16, all children will have a nutrition and lunch meal available to them during the school day,” explained Sessinghaus. “It is our intention that all school sites will be open and traditional meal service will resume.”

“Our district will continue to ask families to fill out meal applications as the results of the application can provide many other benefits, not only for the district, but for the students as well,” she added.

More information on the BUSD Food Services department and programs for students can be found on their webpage.

Image Courtesy Burbank Unified School District.