Gov. Mills signs Sen. Bellows bill to modernize access to school meals

Posted: June 27, 2019 | Senator Bellows

Gov. Janet Mills signed legislation introduced by Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, to modernize the application process for free meals for Maine students and expand “breakfast after the bell” programs into law on Thursday.

A recent study shows that one in five Maine kids is food insecure, meaning they don’t know when or where they will get their next meal. Additionally, it is estimated that at 100 percent participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture child nutrition programs, Maine schools could receive an additional $56 million dollars to feed food-insecure kids.

“No child in Maine should go hungry. With LD 701 in place, more kids will be able to access school breakfast and lunch more easily so they can learn and grow,” said Sen. Bellows. “I’m so inspired and proud to work with the incredible groups and individuals all across Maine who work every day to feed Maine kids. We can end child hunger, and this bill is an important step forward toward that goal.”

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 meals under the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast.

Additionally, the bill provides funding for certain school districts to operate “breakfast after the bell” programs. School districts will qualify for the funding if at least 50 percent of their students qualified for free meals in the prior school year. “Breakfast after the bell” programs have been shown to increase meal participation by students, increasing the number of students who are fed and ready to learn.

The first part of the bill builds upon a 2017 law from Sen. Bellows, 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 online programs from districts across the state to do the same thing.

LD 701 will increase the number of parents who fully complete the forms necessary for students to qualify for free meals. Parents, particularly those who grew up with the internet, are increasingly comfortable doing things online. Online forms also reduce the 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 would be eliminated with one unified system.

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

LD 701 goes into effect on Sept. 19, which is 90 days after the legislature adjourned sine die.