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Maine Lawmakers Considering Extending Free School Meals After Pandemic

School meals
Rogelio V. Solis
Jefferson County School District Department of Food Services staff member Raquel Mims-Cole, center, hands out several days of bagged lunches to a parent for his children on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 in Fayette, Miss.

As part of its response to the pandemic, the federal government is providing free school meals to all students, not just those that meet low-income standards.

But Maine lawmakers are considering a bill that would have the state pick up that cost when the federal funding ends next year.

On Thursday, Legislators heard broad support for the proposal from advocates, lawmakers and parents. Holly McLain of Rockland says her family has benefited from free school meals.

"You never know what life is going to hand you. My family did not plan on being homeless and hungry so why should children suffer and go without because of situations that are out of their control," McLain says.

Several advocates testified that hunger is an impediment to learning, and that free meals are a worthy educational investment. The cost of the bill has yet to be determined, but supporters concede it will be significant.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, the bill's sponsor, says that “When children go to school hungry, it affects their ability to focus, obtain information and get ahead. Providing free, universal school meals is an easy and effective saving."

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.