My name is Lexy Souza, and I’m a social work student at Bridgewater State University. The following is an issue I want to raise more awareness about in our community.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in Massachusetts are currently working to pass a bill called Universal Free School Meals. This bill proposes that all Massachusetts students should continually have access to free and nutritious meals while they attend school.
Food insecurity has always been a prevalent issue in our society and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exasperated the problem. Even before the pandemic, many students accumulated food debt due to an inability to pay for meals, or went without meals completely.
According to Feeding America in 2018, about 13% of children in Bristol County were classified as food insecure. Of the children who were food insecure, 24% were not eligible for free or reduced meals through their schools. The Federal government took action to fight against student hunger during the pandemic by instituting a pause on parental income verification for school meals. This has meant that all students could get food from their school for free during the 2020-2021 school year.
Now as pandemic responses are dissipating, income verification will once again be required for children to access free or reduced meals after the end of this school year (June 30th). The Massachusetts chapter of the NASW is working hard to make sure that all students, regardless of their parents’ income, have equal access to food during the school day.
Together, we can call on our legislators to tell them we support all children having access to free meals at school. Massachusetts has demonstrated during this pandemic that Universal Free School Meals is a realistic option. We need to stay progressive and not go back on what we have already started. There is a long road ahead before hunger and food insecurity are eradicated, but making sure that kids have food stability while in school is a step in the right direction.
To learn more about this issue, visit www.feedkidsma.org
Lexy Souza, Acushnet
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