Skip to content

Heinrich, Fetterman, Warnock Introduce Legislation to Help End Childhood Hunger

The Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act would permanently increase federal reimbursement levels for school meals

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, John Fetterman (D-Pa.), and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) introduced the Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act, legislation to make it easier for students to access quality, nutritious school meals. The bill permanently increases the federal reimbursement level for school meals to help address funding challenges, enhance menus, and increase access to locally grown food. 
With New Mexico’s recent enactment of Senate Bill 4, the Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act would help the state continue to provide free school meals for all.  
“New Mexico sent a strong message to the rest of our nation when it passed universal school meals: Every child deserves a quality education and a fair shot at success. That means no child goes hungry,” said Heinrich, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing USDA nutrition programs. “By permanently increasing the federal school meal reimbursement rate, the Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act is an important step toward keeping all of America’s kids fed. When we invest in our children, we invest in our future.” 
“No child should be worried about where their next meal comes from, and no child should EVER be in debt because they can’t afford school lunch. This bill will provide schools the necessary resources to meet our children’s basic needs,” said Fetterman.
“A good education is our country’s great equalizer, but Georgia students can’t learn and grow if they’re distracted by an empty stomach,” said Warnock. “The more we learn about the lasting impact of food insecurity on children, the more important it becomes for Congress to strongly support school breakfasts and lunches. I’m proud to join Senators Heinrich and Fetterman in this critical effort to address childhood hunger in every corner of Georgia and the country.” 
School meals help shape lifelong healthy eating habits, and research shows that students who participate in school meal programs have better overall diet quality than nonparticipants. Higher food costs are adding to the urgency of this legislation, and a permanent solution will give school districts certainty as they upgrade their meal programs and plan for the future. 
Under federal law, nearly 73% of all New Mexican students qualify for free or reduced-price meals . The recently enacted Senate Bill 4 directs the State of New Mexico to establish an annual budget of $30 million for universal school meals after federal reimbursements offset the total cost to ensure all students receive free meals.  
“Healthy meals in schools lead to healthy young minds in our communities. From the measure we passed six years ago ending lunchroom shaming, to the Healthy Hunger-Free Students Bill of Rights Act we passed this year to ensure that all K-12 students have free breakfasts and lunches, I’m proud to see New Mexico set a national example for addressing childhood food and nutrition security. I thank and applaud Senators Heinrich, Warnock, Fetterman, and the many co-sponsors of the Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act for making this a national priority," said New Mexico Senator Michael Padilla. 
The Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act permanently increases the federal reimbursement level for all free, reduced-price, and paid-rate school meals by 45 cents for every lunch served and 28 cents for every breakfast served, with a yearly adjustment.  
A permanent increase in federal school meal reimbursement rates would support state efforts to provide universal meals, and better position New Mexico School Food Authorities (SFAs) to provide healthy meals for all students.    
This legislation is cosponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Peter Welch (D-V.T.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). 
The Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act has the support of more than a dozen organizations in New Mexico and across the country, including New Mexico Appleseed, Roadrunner Food Bank, New Mexico Voices for Children, School Nutrition Association, Food Research & Action Center, American Heart Association, MAZON, Bread for the World, First Focus Campaign for Children, Save the Children, Project Bread, Urban School Food Alliance, American Commodity Distribution Association, School Superintendents Association, Association of School Business Officials International, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Mayors Alliance to End Childhood Hunger, Flashfood, Chop Chop Family, and FoodCorps.  
"This year, New Mexico became one of the first states to provide healthy school meals to every student in part by leveraging federal meal reimbursements through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. But current meal reimbursement rates don't cover the full cost of school meal programs. Passing the Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act will alleviate tight budgets for school meal programs by increasing the reimbursement rate for eligible meals with an annual adjustment for inflation, ensuring that our students are fed and ready to learn," said Emily Wildau, Director of New Mexico Kids Count at New Mexico Voices for Children. 
Heinrich continues to lead the charge on policy solutions to end childhood hunger and improve nutrition.  
In May, Heinrich introduced the Universal School Meals Program Act with Senators Sanders and Gillibrand, legislation that provides a permanent solution to end child hunger in schools by offering free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack to all students, preschool through high school, regardless of income. 
In June, Heinrich, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, announced unanimous passage of the Fiscal Year 24 (FY24) Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration Appropriations bill, which includes over $10 million in investments for 18 local projects across New Mexico. The bill includes $6.3 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), safeguarding the enrollment of over 6 million women, infants, and children across this country in this vital nutrition program. It also provides a $20 million increase for the Food and Drug Administration to support its mission of protecting the safety and security of our nation’s food supply. 
Find a fact sheet of the Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act here
Find the text of the Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act here