Udall, Haaland, New Mexico Delegation Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Federal Legislation to Prohibit School 'Lunch Shaming'

Bill would ban schools nationwide from practice of publicly singling out children — such as with wrist bands or assigned chores — if they can't pay for school meals

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall and U.S. Representative Deb Haaland, along with Senator Martin Heinrich and Representatives Ben Ray Luján, Assistant Speaker of the House, and Xochitl Torres Small, introduced bipartisan legislation to prohibit school “lunch shaming” – the practice of discriminating against or stigmatizing children who have outstanding credit or don't have enough money to pay for meals at school. The Anti-Lunch Shaming Act would ban schools from singling out children — such as by requiring them to wear hand stamps or do extra chores — because their parents or guardians have not paid their school meal bills.

The full text of the bill can be found HERE. A summary of the bill can be found HERE.

"Lunch shaming is a practice so cruel and backwards that most Americans would be shocked to know it happens. And yet school districts across the country are allowed to use these appalling tactics. Instead of stigmatizing kids who come from struggling households, withholding hot meals from students, and depriving some children of their only healthy meal of the day, we should be working to find solutions to end childhood hunger and to support families in need,” said Udall. “We know that hunger can be an insurmountable barrier to success in the classroom. I was proud when New Mexico became the first state in the country to outlaw the practice of lunch shaming, and I will continue to do everything I can in the Senate to pass this legislation on a federal level so no child will have to spend their time at school feeling ashamed of a debt they have no power to pay.”

“No child should have to worry about being hungry at school, but there are still places in this country with outdated policies that force children to bear the burden of poverty,” said Haaland, a member of the Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity. “In 2017, New Mexico took the lead on ending these harmful policies and now we’re working to ensure children across the country have full stomachs when they’re in school so they can reach their full learning potential.”

“Stigmatizing or shaming students for not being able to afford lunch is unacceptable. Child hunger is a serious problem facing New Mexico. We know that when children are hungry it impacts their ability to focus and learn in the classroom. Nothing is more important than improving the well-being of our children and I will continue working to find solutions that ensure our students can grow and thrive,” said Heinrich.  

“It’s simple – you can’t learn if you’re hungry. As legislators – as responsible human beings - we cannot stand by and let antiquated policies bully and stigmatize kids whose parents cannot afford to pay for their lunches. It is far past time that we end lunch shaming for the betterment of all our kids,” said Assistant Speaker Luján.

“We all know children learn best when they have access to healthy and nutritious meals. For some students, their school lunch might be their only healthy meal of the day. Yet, in school cafeterias across the nation, schools are publicly shaming children whose families cannot afford for pay for their school meals. Rather than allow this to continue, this bill would require schools to treat all students the same and communicate directly with parents and guardians to address outstanding lunch payments. New Mexico led this initiative to outlaw lunch shaming and I’m proud to stand with the delegation outlaw lunch shaming nationwide,” said Torres Small. 

In March of 2017, New Mexico passed the first law in the United States to prohibit lunch shaming. The legislation spurred a number of other states to pass legislation or take action to combat lunch shaming including Virginia, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Texas, Iowa, Washington, Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania. A number of other state legislatures are currently considering measures to address this shameful practice and the federal Anti-Lunch Shaming Act aims to provide similar protections to students throughout the country.

The Anti-Lunch Shaming Act prohibits schools participating in U.S. Department of Agriculture school lunch or breakfast programs from using humiliation or throwing a child's meal away because their parent or guardian hasn't paid their school meal bill and other shaming tactics. Instead, it requires schools to direct communications regarding meal debt to the parent or guardian, not the child.

The bill also aims to make the process for applying for free and reduced-price lunch applications easier by encouraging the Department of Agriculture to distribute the maximum number of applications for free or reduce price lunches in an understandable, uniform format and encourage schools to offer assistance to complete the applications; coordinate with State agencies, school food authorities, and local education agency liaisons to ensure that homeless children and youth, and children and youth in foster care are eligible to receive a free or reduced-price lunch; and explore innovative ways to use technology to improve communications between parents or guardians and school food authorities.

The Anti-Lunch Shaming Act has been endorsed by New Mexico Appleseed — the nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization that created New Mexico's Hunger Free Students’ Bill of Rights —whose Executive Director Jennifer Ramo championed the New Mexico law.  

“There are few more powerful antidotes to the causes and consequences of child poverty than food and dignity. This important bill ensures that children receive the vital nutrition they need to focus in school through the national school lunch program. And, it ensures that they do so with their self-respect intact.  We have saved New Mexican children from the devastating effects of being humiliated and missing meals through our state’s Hunger-Free Student Bill of Rights, and now we are excited to see this protection extended nationally to all children in need,” said Jennifer Ramo, Executive Director of New Mexico Appleseed.

The legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine.), Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Penn.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and U.S. Representatives Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), Conor Lamb (D-Penn.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.).

Other endorsing organizations include: FRAC, Feeding America, National PTA, Share our Strength, First Focus,Food Corps, New Mexico Appleseed, Hunger Task Force, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, California Food Policy Advocates, New Mexico Voices for Children, Hunger Free Vermont, End Childhood Hunger – South Carolina, Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, Children’s Hunger Alliance, Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Cultivating Community, Alabama Food Bank Association, Feed the Children, Hunger Free Oklahoma, Hunger Solutions New York, West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, Missoula Food Bank,  Food Bank of Delaware, &  New Hampshire Food Bank.

The full text of the bill can be found HERE. A summary of the bill can be found HERE.