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California bill would push schools to provide kids with lunch, even if meal fees are unpaid

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A piece of legislation was introduced Tuesday that would push schools to offer kids lunches, even if they are unable to pay. The Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act would tackle issues of “embarrassment” for kids who are publicly denied lunches, and would help low-income students stay fed and able to learn despite their family’s ability to pay for meals.

Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys drafted the legislation. “We know that hunger undercuts a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school,” Hertzberg said. “We also know that embarrassing children in front of peers can destroy their self-confidence. That is why it’s important to stop school lunch shaming and create a different approach for tackling lunch fee debt.”

Seventy-five percent of teachers nationally state that their students arrive at school hungry, and 59 percent say “a lot or most” of students depend heavily on school lunch meals.

In California, 23 percent of school-age children have families living below the federal poverty line.

The bill directs schools to exhaust all options in finding a way to certify students for free or reduced-price meals or reimburse them for the fees.

“The National School Lunch Program is an essential program, preventing hunger and securing opportunity one lunch tray at a time,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which is co-sponsoring the legislation. “California’s school nutrition professionals are some of the best in the country. This bill will help clarify rules for them, families and for kids when school lunches go unpaid and remove opportunities for school children to be shamed or go hungry in the school environment.”

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