Bill aims to offer free meals to all California public school children

School lunches will be provided for those who need them.

A lawmaker wants every public school student in California to be able to eat meals at school for free, no matter their status or income. 

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, (D-Berkeley), introduced "School Meals for All" on Wednesday to make free meals available to every public school student without any burdensome application process or eligibility determination.

If the bill is approved, it would be the first of its kind in the nation. 

"Free education for every child has long been the norm. Knowing how essential nutrition is to learning, it makes sense that free, healthy meals also be the norm," Skinner said in a statement. "SB 364 will ensure that students are fed without the red tape schools and families are currently burdened with."

The bill does not address how much the program would cost or where the future funding would come from. 

State and federal programs fund free and reduced-price meals for schoolchildren from low-income families.

But over the years, many students have been effectively locked out of the program due to mandatory and burdensome application processes and out-of-date federal income guidelines, Skinner said.

Before COVID-19, 15.2% of children in California were experiencing hunger, and that number has now nearly doubled, according to data provided by Skinner's office. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. Congress passed the Pandemic Child Prevention Act to allow meals to be served to all children without these paperwork burdens. SB 364 will use this model and allow schools to continue providing meals for all children after the pandemic is over, according to Skinner's office. In recognition of California’s agriculture economy, the bill also prioritizes food grown and produced in the state.