From the Advocacy Committee
June 1, 2023
Governor Josh Shapiro released his proposed 2023-24 budget on March 7, his first after taking office on January 17, 2023. Among other things, his budget provides $38.5 million to provide universal school breakfast to all Pennsylvania public school students, regardless of income. The budget hearings have concluded in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and the budget must be passed by June 30. It remains unclear if this measure will be included in the final budget.
As a result of an executive action by former Governor Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania public schools were able to offer universal school breakfast and lunch to all students for the 2022-23 school year. This order was an extension of a much lauded and first of its kind pandemic relief program implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture that funded universal school breakfast and lunch for all American students under the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021, a program that expired on June 20, 2022.
Educators and nutrition experts agree that school meals lunch are critical to student health and well-being, especially for low-income students—and ensures that students have nutrition they need throughout the day to learn. Research shows that receiving free or reduced-price school meals reduces food insecurity, obesity rates, and poor health.
Other benefits of offering universal free meals are:
• Reduced or eliminated stigma, as the financial barrier of paying for school meals is eliminated;
• Reduced paperwork for school nutrition staff;
• More streamlined meal service operations;
• Less unpaid meal debt; and
• Fewer students turned away due to inability to pay.
Free universal school meals can also be implemented on a schoolwide basis through the federal Community Eligibility Provision program, which covers schools with high poverty rates. In order to qualify, 40% of the student body must be eligible for free lunches. The Camp Hill School District does not qualify for this program, with a poverty rate of 5.8% - (about 460 people), compared to the statewide average poverty rate of 17%.
In districts that do not meet the poverty rate criteria for universal free lunch, such as Camp Hill, eligibility is based on family income and determined on a family-by-family basis. It is important to note that under the federal rules, however, school districts are not required to offer the free meals even if they are eligible to offer them and even if the students are eligible for them in districts that do not meet the poverty guidelines. 2
Camp Hill School District does serve free and reduced price meals to qualifying students, including:
• All children in households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly the Food Stamp Program) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits;
• Foster children who are under the legal responsibility of a foster care agency or court;
• Children participating in their school’s Head Start program ;
• Children who meet the definition of homeless, runaway, or migrant;
• Children living in households with income within the limits on the Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines (e.gh., family of 4 with an annual income of $51,338).
In addition, Pennsylvania State Senator Lindsey M. Williams (D, 38th, Allegheny) introduced Senate Bill 180 on March 9, 2023. This bill would improve on Governor Shapiro’s proposal by providing free school breakfast and lunch to all Pennsylvania public school students. Senator Williams estimates that providing free breakfast and lunch for all students in Pennsylvania every year would cost taxpayers $300 million annually, about one percent of the state budget. The bill was referred to the Senate Education Committee; Senator Williams is the Democratic co-chair of that committee, which is chaired by Republican Senator David G. Argall (Carbon, Luzerne, and Schuylkill Counties).
The Camp Hill Democratic Advisory Committee recommends that the Camp Hill Democrats support any and all bills that would make school meals free and universal and communicate this support to State Representative Patty Kim and State Senator Greg Rothman.