Free lunch for every Nebraska student proposed as 1 in 7 lack stable access to food

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — As we repeatedly saw throughout the pandemic, many children rely on schools to get enough to eat.

That’s one of the reasons a new bill introduced in Nebraska this legislative session is getting national attention.

The Hunger-Free Schools Act would provide free breakfast and lunch to all students, no matter how much money their family makes.

It’s proven that kids that are not hungry have a better attention span and are able to take in the lessons of the day,” said Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, who introduced the bill.

According to the Food Bank of Lincoln, one in seven children living here in southeast Nebraska is experiencing food insecurity. 

That means at least five students in a single classroom with 35 kids do not have stable access to food. 

“Children, they don’t get to choose their situation, they don’t get to decide how their budget gets to be spent,” said Alynn Sampson, vice president of operations and impact for the Food Bank of Lincoln.

The food bank said it is starting to see more people struggling with food insecurity after pandemic funding came to an end. 

The nonprofit said this bill would help families of all incomes who are struggling with inflation.

“It really puts the focus back on learning,” Sampson said.

Lawmakers in both Missouri and South Carolina are pursuing similar legislation, and Colorado already approved such a measure.

Just last summer, Channel 8 shared an urgent message from Lincoln Public Schools after a federal program that covered free meals during the pandemic ended.

The Keep Kids Fed Act tied school meals to an income-based system that some families did not qualify for.  LPS also raised the price of lunch.

Nationwide, the School Nutrition Association says 11 million children do not have consistent access to adequate food.

Data show that students who eat school breakfast achieve higher scores on standardized math tests and attend more days of school each year.

Studies have also shown that school meal programs play an important role in preventing obesity.

Channel 8 has not received a response on how much the program would cost if the bill becomes law.

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