LANSING, September 19, 2023 - The American Heart Association is leading an ongoing statewide effort to ensure all Michigan public school students have permanent access to healthy school meals at no cost to families. The program, approved in June for funding for the current school year, provides no-cost healthy school meals for all public pre-K to 12 students.
Under Senate Bill 500, sponsored by Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, this program would become permanent.
“As a public school teacher, I have stood in thousands of lunch lines with students and have witnessed first-hand how stigmatizing it can be for those whose lunch tabs haven’t been paid. I have also witnessed how distracting it can be for students who complain of hunger while they’re trying to learn. This bill will ensure that students can focus on learning first and foremost,” Sen. Polehanki said.
The American Heart Association partnered with No Kid Hungry Michigan and the School Nutrition Association of Michigan to create the Michigan School Meals coalition, whose goal is to address the urgent need for Michigan to act on this issue. Eight states across the country have enacted Healthy School Meals for All policies, and more than 20 states have introduced legislation to create programs.
Today, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony about the bill and why the Michigan Legislature needs to act now. SB 500 would create a recurring program that would enable schools to provide all pre-K through 12th grade students with healthy school meals at no cost to families. The program would ensure that students are well-nourished and ready to learn, while maximizing federal reimbursement dollars.
In Michigan, one in eight kids faces hunger. Food insecurity is even more prevalent among Black and Hispanic households and in rural communities. Healthy school meals provide an important source of nutrition for all students through the school week.
“Aside from the overall health benefits, this policy would help mitigate the development of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes,” said Collin McDonough, American Heart Association Government Relations Director, Michigan.
Expanding access to healthy school meals allows more students to realize their nutritional and educational potential. And it helps strengthen school nutrition budgets by increasing participation in breakfast and lunch programs and eliminating unpaid meal charges.
“Healthy School Meals for All intersects both public health and education,” said Kim Baron, Director of School Health Services, Grand Rapids Public Schools. “Providing no-cost, healthy food means we are giving our students the tools they need to succeed inside and outside the classroom. This legislation is a common-sense way to improve student health outcomes and help families.”
Research has found strong parental support for no-cost school meals because they reduce household costs, save time and reduce stigma.
“The tiered eligibility system of the past left too many students behind. Families found the cost of school meals burdensome, while at the same time, the students who qualified for free or reduced-price meals faced stigma. We must pass SB 500, or we will return to that status quo,” McDonough said.
SB 500 works by maximizing federal reimbursements for school meals while offering all public-school students in Michigan the opportunity to participate in school meals programs at no cost.
If passed, the bill would:
- Provide for a permanent program by updating the state school code;
- Maximize federal revenue by directing eligible schools to adopt the community eligibility provision in a way that would draw down the most federal funds;
- Increase school meal participation by more than 18 million meals served, resulting in a projected drawdown of an additional $45 million in federal funds for school meals programs;
- Save the average Michigan family $850 per student per year; and
- Encourage schools to offer meals that meet students’ religious and other dietary preferences while accommodating disabilities and other medical needs.
This school year, all Michigan students have an opportunity to spend their school day nourished and ready to learn. Permanent Healthy School Meals for All would ensure that future students have the same guarantee while providing relief to families and consistency to school administrators.
About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public's health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.
For Media Inquiries:
Matt Johnson, Communications Director, West Michigan
Sarah Rood, Communications Director, Southeast Michigan
For Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)
heart.org and stroke.org