Bellows bill would cut red tape for school lunch programs

Posted: April 03, 2017 | Senator Bellows

A bill introduced by Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, would make it easier for parents to fill out the necessary forms for their kids to receive free and reduced-prices lunches for which they qualify.

The bill — LD 1113 “An Act To Improve Antihunger Programs in Maine Schools” — would require the Maine Department of Education to develop an online application that schools may use for all eligible students for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program. Schools would also continue providing paper applications for families who prefer that method.

“The research is clear: When children are fed, children can learn. When children are hungry, they can’t learn,” said Sen. Bellows. “Everything we do in education starts with making sure that every child has enough to eat during the school day. This bill modernizes the school lunch program to help us try to reach every child who is eligible.”

Currently, most schools still use a paper form that goes home with a student, filled out by a parent or guardian, and returned to the school by the student. This process has many potential pitfalls: young students may not deliver the form to the right person at home or at school, a paper form may get misplaced at any point in the process, the form may be incompletely filled out, or the data may be entered incorrectly.

The online form improves upon this process and makes it easier for parents and schools. Parents can enter their information once for multiple children and they can do so without worrying that a form with sensitive information may get lost or seen by unauthorized persons. The burden on schools to collect and enter data would also be reduced. Currently, food service staff must cross-reference data provided against other lists to ensure accuracy — an online form would do that automatically.

“Forty-seven percent of Maine students qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school,” said Clara Whitney of Good Shepherd Food Bank. “We need to ensure that these meal programs are easy for families to access.”

Also speaking in favor of the bill were Brianna Nielsen, a Portland parent, the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative, the Saco School Department, the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Maine School Management Association, the Maine Education Association, and Full Plates, Full Potential. No one spoke in opposition to the bill.

The bill faces further action in the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, and votes in the House and Senate.