Heinrich pushes for free school meals nationwide

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — During the 60-day session, New Mexico lawmakers wanted to ensure all students have access to free and healthy school meals. A new state law will provide free breakfast and lunch to all New Mexico students, regardless of income level, starting this fall.

Now, Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich wants to take this to the federal level. He is the co-sponsor of the Universal School Meals Program Act that was introduced last week.

The bill is also co-sponsored by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont.

The bill is similar to what the state Legislature recently passed. It would provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack to all U.S. students, from pre-K through high school.

“It’ll fall within the budget of the department of the USDA budget, and so we’ll have to make an allocation each year in the appropriations process,” Heinrich said. “We actually did this during COVID, which is the interesting thing. The difference is when we did it on an emergency basis during COVID. We didn’t have all these kids in the classroom, and so we weren’t able to sort of capture the maximum benefits of having a universal lunch program.”

This legislation was also introduced alongside the Living Schoolyards Act, which would create more hands-on outdoor learning opportunities.

Both pieces of legislation still need to make their way through chambers on Capitol Hill.