Gov. Ned Lamont announced an expansion of Connecticut’s free school meals program for students who receive reduced price meals through the federal School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program.

The $16 million program will be paid for using American Rescue Plan (ARPA) dollars from the federal government. This expansion, which includes upwards of 128 school districts and 190,000 students, comes following roughly a year and a half of free school lunches for all students, part of the state’s response to the pandemic.

“This investment ensures that each student begins their day with a nourishing meal, fostering learning and growth,” Lamont said in a press release. “Additionally, removing the family portion of the cost of lunch for students eligible for reduced-price meals means more money in their pockets for other essential needs. By ensuring access to nutritious meals, we empower our students to excel academically and in all facets of life.”

During the pandemic, the State of Connecticut utilized federal COVID dollars to offer free school meals for all students through November of 2022. Following outcry from residents, however, the legislature earmarked another $60 million in ARPA funds to continue free school meals from February 2023 through the end of the school year.

However, as student prepare to return to classes at the end of August, some families worried about paying once again for school meals and pushed for the legislature to enact universal free school meals on a permanent basis, estimated to cost roughly $90 million.

During a press conference announcing the program, Connecticut Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker said it is estimated that a family with three children who received reduced price breakfast and lunch will save roughly $378 for the school year.

“That is awesome,” Russell-Tucker said. “The Department under the governor’s leadership firmly believes that every student deserves access to wholesome and nutritious meals because ultimately… there is no curriculum brilliant enough to compensate for a hungry stomach or distracted mind.”

“We know that many families struggle,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven. “They are reliant on the meals they get at school to actually be the most substantive meal that they get in many cases during the day. It is a lifeline, not just a convenience.”

Massachusetts recently announced that it would continue offering universal free school meals for all students as part of its budget, joining other states like Colorado, California, Maine and Vermont, among others. The Massachusetts initiative cost $171 million.

Looney said the topic of universal free school meals may be revisited in the 2024 legislative session. 

“I agree that we should move more comprehensively toward free school meals for everyone,” Looney said. “Even in circumstances where parents may be above the threshold for even the reduced-price lunches there are some cases where there are needs or social problems that exist in those families that can interfere with providing healthy meals for kids. So, we should be moving in that direction.”

Gov. Lamont said the push by activists calling for universal free lunch led to this latest expansion, and said he was waiting to see what the federal government might do in the future.

“Whatever we do, we do in close coordination with the federal government,” Lamont said. 

“In this budget, we’ve got it going for the next year. We’re seeing what the federal government is going to do as well,” Lamont said. “Obviously, we got free lunches in most of our urban areas, this is extending it now to our suburban towns as well to make sure nobody is left behind and I think we’re just getting started.”

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Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels,...

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