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SALT LAKE CITY — California will be the first state to implement free meals to all public school students in the 2022-2023 school year. With over 327,000 students in California public schools, the state will be using the Universal Meals program according to the California Department of Education.
The Universal Meals program will be used to reach more students with the federal National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. The United States has around $262 million in school lunch debt a year, according to the Education Data Initiative.
NPR reported that 60% of California students qualify for free school meals, but there is a higher number of children who need help eating all three meals due to a large amount of income inequality.
Free meals that have nutritious value are given to all students regardless of their eligibility through the Universal Meals Program.
Prior to this program, students qualified for free meals under particular criteria which included aspects like their parents' income taxes, the level of poverty in the school's surrounding area and the zip code where the family lives.
ABC News 10 reported that Gov. Gavin Newson approved funds for one-time expansions of nutrition services and kitchen capabilities in schools to prepare for the introduction of the Universal Meals Program in 2021.
Before the new program was introduced, students were only given free meals if they had qualified and applied.
"It's just for the most poor families, and not even all of them because some people failed to sign up or were fearful to sign up," philanthropist and major funder who backed California's plan, Kat Taylor, told NPR.
The Universal Meals Program is set to help feed students who need the meals and reduce the amount of checkpoints students have to pass through.