Harrisburg, PA- March 7, 2023 — Following Governor Josh Shapiro’s inaugural Budget Address to the Joint General Assembly today, Senator Lindsey M. Williams (D-Allegheny), Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and advocates applauded the Governor’s proposed $38.5 million investment to continue the Universal Free Breakfast Program and expand access to free lunch.
Pennsylvania’s Universal Free Breakfast Program began on October 1, 2022 after Senator Williams, legislators, and advocates, including the School Nutrition Association of PA (SNAPA) and the Greater Pittsburgh Area Food Bank, urged Governor Wolf to act after the Federal Government ended funding and waivers that had provided free breakfast and lunch for all students during the pandemic. This program provides free school breakfast to all students at schools that participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. However, the Universal Free School Breakfast Program was limited to the 2022-23 school year.
“I was incredibly encouraged to hear that Governor Shapiro included extending the Universal School Breakfast program and expanding access to free lunch in his first budget address,” said Senator Williams. “These programs provide our students with healthy meals that allow them to be ready to learn every single day. Providing breakfast and lunch is just as essential to learning as providing textbooks and desks—students can’t learn when they’re hungry.”
Within a month of the implementation of the Universal Free Breakfast Program, local school districts saw participation in their breakfast programs skyrocket by as much as 42%, as students took advantage of the opportunity to have a healthy breakfast to fuel their bodies and brains before a day of learning.
“I’ve heard from students who are excited to be able to spend time eating with their friends in the morning, now that breakfast is available to everyone again. Kids know when they’re being singled out for free meals, no matter how hard the adults try to hide it. When we level the playing field, we eliminate the shame and make meals a fun and community experience again,” said Senator Williams. “I’ve also heard from parents and caregivers that the Universal Breakfast Program has been an invaluable help, especially as we see prices rise at the grocery stores, gas stations, and utility bills.”
SNAPA also commended Governor Shapiro today for his continued support of the education and health of Pennsylvania’s school children by proposing funds that support school breakfast at no cost. “Continuing universal free school breakfast across Pennsylvania helps to ensure every student will start their day with a healthy, nutritious meal,” said Melissa Froehlich, SNAPA Public Communication Chair. “Research supports that a well-nourished child who starts the day with breakfast is more likely to be at school, has improved concentration and is more willing to participate in the classroom. Universal free breakfast for all students in Pennsylvania will strengthen child nutrition programs, and address equity and stigmas around school breakfast so more children will have access to nutritious meals and set our students up for success in the classroom.”
Senator Williams and Senator Schwank have introduced Senate Bill 180 that will codify the Universal School Meals program, which will provide all students both breakfast and lunch and also erase existing lunch debt, allowing school districts to start fresh at the beginning of this new program. The full text of the legislation is available here. Rep. Emily Kinkead (D-20) has introduced companion legislation in the House.
Senator Schwank also applauded Governor Shapiro’s proposed investment in school meals, saying “When students go hungry, they aren’t in a position to excel in the classroom and reach their full potential. That’s why I’m so encouraged to see the extension of Pennsylvania’s Universal Free Breakfast Program included in Governor Shapiro’s budget proposal. It’s of benefit to all Pennsylvanians to help our kids succeed by providing them with the nutritious meals they need to get the most out of the school day. I’m very optimistic that we can work across the aisle and accomplish this in this year’s budget.”
Individuals can learn more about the Universal School Meals program and how it fits into combatting child hunger here. You can also sign on to be a part of the citizen coalition urging legislators to support Universal School Meals legislation and fight child hunger here.