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‘Healthy School Meals for All Act’ introduced in hopes of providing free meals to all WI students

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PULASKI, Wis. (WFRV) – Before spaghetti was served for lunch at Pulaski’s Glenbrook Elementary School, legislators and other local officials came together in the school’s cafeteria to introduce an act that could help ensure students continue to have enough to eat.

Caitlin Harrison, Director of Food Service for the Pulaski Community School District told Local 5 that lunchtime is one of the most important times of the day.

“Feeding them all of the meals that we do really provides them to be able to excel in the classroom, so to me it’s the most pivotal part of their day,” she said.

Since March 2020 meals have been paid for by the federal government through the Child Nutrition Program.

“There are working families across the country who don’t qualify for free and reduced meals in school but are still food insecure,” Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay) said.

That federal program is set to end in June 2022.

“And that will mean we’ll go back to what we had before, and what we had before wasn’t good enough,” Rep. Shelton said.

Harrison agreed, “We would be taking away that meal safety net from a lot of families who are utilizing that, here in Pulaski and across the state as well.”

The Healthy School Meals for All Act, introduced by Rep. Shelton along with Rep. Francesca Hong (D – Madison) and Sen. Chris Larson (D – Milwaukee), along with State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly, would continue to provide two free meals a day to students across the state.

“I don’t think that we should be taking food away from kids,” Rep. Shelton said, “I think we should continue with what we’re having. We know it works, we know it’s an investment in kids and in families and in the economy.”

There is not an exact price tag on the bill yet, but Rep. Shelton said she’s hoping federal funding will help cover some of the cost.

“This would maximize federal reimbursements,” she explained, “and the state would basically cover that gap of kids who don’t qualify through the federal reimbursements as free and reduced.”

That’s a gap school officials say they’re anxious about heading into next school year.

“I’m concerned about parents who have lost a job or who have maybe taken a job back that isn’t as financially lucrative as before the pandemic,” Harrison said. “What’re they going to do to support their students eating, whether it’s a packed meal from home or a school lunch, it’s going to be challenging.”

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