Committee unanimously approves Bellows bill to modernize access to school meals

Posted: April 03, 2019 | Senator Bellows

The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday for a bill introduced by Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, to modernize the application process for free or reduced-price lunches for Maine students.

LD 701 “An Act to Modernize the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program,” requires the Department of Education to develop, and make available, an online application that schools may use for all eligible students for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast.

The bill builds upon a law from Sen. Bellows from 2017, LD 1113, which required the Department of Education to make available information about online applications for school lunch and school breakfast programs. LD 701 streamlines this process by having the Department develop one online system, rather than having up to 174 different software programs from districts across the state to do the same thing. An amendment to the bill clarifies that the department may contract with a third-party vendor to develop and implement the online application. It also clarifies that the school districts themselves will be responsible for handling of the online applications.

“Everything that we do in education starts with making sure that every child has enough to eat during the school day, so I’m glad to have the Committee’s support for this vital bill,” said Sen. Bellows. “We can all agree that by delivering food directly to children in need through the school lunch program, we are helping children learn better, and taxpayers can be assured that the money invested is having its intended effect.”

LD 701 will increase the number of parents who fully complete the forms necessary for students to qualify for free or reduce-price lunches. Parents, particularly those who grew up with the internet, are increasingly comfortable doing things online. Online forms also reduce worry of children losing forms, or returning them to the wrong place. They also increase privacy for parents who worry about the wrong people seeing their detailed financial information included on these forms.

Additionally, if school districts develop individual online applications, there is no guarantee that information can be easily transferred to another district – a complication that wouldn’t be present with one unified system.

At a recent public hearing on LD 701, the Maine Education Association; Dr. Victoria Rogers, Pediatrician and Senior Director of Let’s Go! at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center; Laura Pineo, Director of School Nutrition at RSU/MSAD 54 in Skowhegan; and Justin Alfond with Full Plates Full Potential all spoke in favor of the bill.

Paper applications would still be made available for families who want or need that option.

LD 701 now moves to the Maine House and Senate for additional votes.