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Bill to provide free meals to New Mexican children passes Senate

Antoni Shkraba

The Healthy Universal School Meals Act introduced by Senators Michael Padilla (D-Albuquerque) and Leo Jaramillo (D-Los Alamos) is now called the Healthy Hunger-Free Students Bill of Rights Actand would give free breakfast and lunch regardless of family income to every New Mexican child.

Padilla says Senate bill 4 was amended in committee to ensure the program would be accessible to every public school that’s a part of the current school lunch program.

But the appropriation dropped from $30 million to $20 million on request of the Senate Finance Committee. The program would start in July.

Senator Jaramillo came from a low-income community and qualified for free meals. As an educator he says he often sees hungry kids.

"This bill would ensure that they have a healthy nutritious breakfast and lunch, said Jaramillo. "And for many students at New Mexico, this might be the only meal they have for that day."

Republican Senator Pat Woods (R-Broadview) voted yes on the bill, but also recommended children be allowed to vote on the meals they like in order to cut down on food waste.

SB4 heads next to the House of Representatives.

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s currently a part of the Local News Fund Fellowship where she will be working with KUNM-FM and NMPBS during her 9-month fellowship where she will gain hands-on newsroom experience. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
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  • About 71% of New Mexican students qualify for free or reduced-price meals yet some of our children are still going hungry. The Healthy Universal School Meals Act introduced by Democratic Senators Michael Padilla and Leo Jaramillo would give all public and charter school students free access to breakfast and lunch regardless of family income. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is a supporter of this bill and made it one of her priorities in her State of the State address.
  • Lawmakers have advanced a substitute bill that would provide free breakfast and lunch to New Mexico school kids. Some legislators are skeptical about the price tag and whether the state can afford it in years to come. But supporters say this bill could keep thousands of kids from going hungry.
  • Native Americans experience food insecurity at much higher rates than others in this country. Now members of the state’s congressional delegation have introduced a federal bill to help Native children at the risk of going hungry by providing them free nutritious meals. The legislation would also give tribal entities a say in what their children are eating.