A school lunch. Image via Annapolis High School/Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

The American Heart Association is endorsing a bill before the Maryland General Assembly that would provide free meals to all students at the state’s public and private schools.

During the pandemic, all public and private school students nationwide were entitled to free breakfast and lunch regardless of household income. However, the federal program ceased at the end of the last school year.

Now dual bills in the House of Delegates and the Senate hope to revive the program permanently in Maryland. Six states – California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Vermont – have already passed similar legislation. Both the House and Senate bills are currently in committee. 

Public schools in Baltimore City and Dorchester and Somerset counties already have universal free meal policies in place. Meanwhile, Maryland has recently revised its eligibility standards for the income-based program, leading to a sharp increase in participation. 

“As a parent of two elementary school kids, for two years, I didn’t have to worry about what my kids were going to eat at school,” said Del. Kirill Reznik, a Montgomery County Democrat who is a sponsor of the House bill.

“It occurred to me, both as a parent and a legislator, not every parent in the state gets to casually think about ‘let’s just pack a lunch, let’s just put money on their card,’” he said. “For a lot of parents in the state that is a choice between letting my kid eat at school or getting the rent paid or the light bill paid or putting gas in my car.”

According to the nonprofit Maryland chapter of No Kid Hungry, 11.1% of the state’s households are food insecure. Advocates say some of these households may not qualify under the low-income requirements, but children in those households still lack adequate nutrition.

American Heart Association said it supports the bill because research found that the program raised attendance, improved academic performance, and decreased tardiness.

“There are so many barriers to make sure our kids get fed and do well in school, and we know that this legislation will make a huge difference,” said Laura Hale, Director of Government Relations for the American Heart Association, Greater Maryland division. 

Other activists say the bill would wipe out the issue of school meal debt, which, they say, can have a stigmatizing effect on students.

Avatar photo

Tim Swift

Tim Swift is a local freelance writer and the former features editor for the Baltimore Sun.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *