Bill that would provide free breakfast to students on reduced meal plan headed to governor’s desk 

Monitor staff
Published: 6/30/2019 10:25:35 PM

Donna Reynolds comes across a lot of parents who face a decision when they send their children off to school in the morning.

“Parents that are struggling financially, we know they often have to choose between whether to give their children money to pay for breakfast or lunch at school,” said Reynolds, Director of Food Services in the Concord School District. “They can’t afford both.”

This is especially true for families on the reduced meal program, Reynolds said. Per the federal National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, reduced lunch costs 40 cents per child and breakfast costs 30 cents. Even this amount can feel like a burden for parents, especially those who have more than one child to feed, Reynolds said.

“As a result, there are a lot of children who aren’t eating in the morning,” Reynolds said.

The average number of New Hampshire students participating in the lunch program at school every day is 80,728, compared with 21,663 for breakfast, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

A bill that passed the House and Senate on Thursday would make it so every student eligible for reduced meals will get breakfast for free. Senate Bill 82 is now headed to the governor’s desk.

Child advocates say that if signed into law, the program would increase the total number of students accessing a nutritious breakfast while also improving academic performance.

“We know that children’s behaviors are better in the classroom when they have breakfast,” said Elaine VanDyke, chairwoman of New Hampshire Hunger Solutions. “This would have such a beneficial effect on behavior in the classroom, it would help students concentrate more and work successfully.”

The bill would require the state to take on the cost of breakfast – 30 cents per student – that families are usually required to pay. That would mean the state would pay 27 cents per student out of its general fund, because of the 3 cents per student already provided to schools by the Department of Education.

It would cost the state $370,234 to pick up the tab for all 7,618 reduced price meal students in New Hampshire in fiscal year 2020. The bill accounts for a 3% increase in reduced price meal students annually, according to the Center for Disease Control projections for different age groups, bringing up the total cost for the state to $404,546 in 2023.

Investing in students eating breakfast at school will also increase the reimbursement money provided to schools by the federal government. Schools participating in the National School Breakfast Program get money for every student who eats breakfast at school, even students who pay full-price. Schools get 31 cents per paid student, according to the federal Food and Nutrition Service.

New Hampshire schools receive between $1.49 and $1.89 per student receiving reduced breakfast. That money can be spent on any programs within the food service, like new equipment, staff or more expensive food items.

VanDyke said she thinks encouraging reduced meal students to eat breakfast will have an effect on the whole school population.

“Putting this new marketing plan out, we may be targeting this one population, but we believe a lot more kids will start eating breakfast, because if your friend eats breakfast, you will, too,” she said. “We think the outreach to families and parents will have an effect on all kinds of families and parents, not just ones on the reduced meal plan.”

Close to 10% of all households in the state are food insecure, according to research from the Food Research and Action Center.

Free meals at school are available to children in households with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty level, which equates to an annual salary of about $33,475 for a family of four in New Hampshire, according to the state’s Division of Public Health Services. Reduced-price meals are available to children in households with incomes up to 185% of the poverty level, or an annual salary of about $47,638 for a family of four in the state.

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