By Matthew Reichbach
All New Mexico public school students will receive free meals after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law on Monday. This makes New Mexico just the fourth state to guarantee free meals to all public school students.
“Today, New Mexico is leading the nation by not only providing free healthy school meals to every student in our state, but we’re also making sure those meals are nutritious foods that kids want to eat,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “When we feed our children, we’re feeding our future – these investments today will yield benefits tomorrow through generations of healthier New Mexicans.”
States throughout the country had universal free school meals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic through federal waivers. The federal COVID-19 emergency declarations will end later this year. The state’s emergency disaster declaration will end at the end of the month, and Lujan Grisham has said she will not renew it.
Supporters of the program said that free meals would help with student achievement, making sure that those who suffer from food insecurity are able to have nutritious meals, which will help them during the school year.
The new law also requires that students in kindergarten through 6th grade must have at least 20 minutes of seated time to eat, to ensure they have enough time to finish their meals. This attempt to reduce or eliminate food waste, along with collecting unused food for food pantries and other organizations.
“Healthy meals in schools lead to healthy young minds in our communities, and I’m incredibly proud of the partnerships we are forging to ensure every student has access to nutritious meal from the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act we passed six years ago ending lunchroom shaming, to this measure ensuring that every kid will have access to free, nutritious meals, NM continues to set a national example for addressing childhood food and nutrition security,” bill sponsor and state Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said in a statement. “I applaud Governor Lujan Grisham for making this a priority and signing Senate Bill 4 into law today.” The bill, SB 4, passed both the state House of Representatives and Senate unanimously.