New Mexico now has a law that ensures children are served school meals even if their parents do not pay on time and prohibits schools from calling attention to children whose lunch accounts are overdrawn to avoid any stigma.
Gov. Susana Martinez signed the legislation ahead of Friday’s deadline for acting on the dozens of bills passed during the recent legislative session.
Advocates say the school lunch bill — also known as the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights — is novel legislation and no other state has taken such a step.
It ends practices like having meals that have already been served to students who can’t pay or who owe thrown in the garbage, or making those students wear identifying wristbands or hand stamps or do chores to work off meal debt.
“This bill draws a line in the sand between the student and the unpaid school meal fees that their parents or guardians owe, oftentimes because they cannot afford to pay on time,” said Jennifer Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed, a nonprofit group focuses on poverty.
In New Mexico, where poverty rates are among the highest in the nation, there was a backlash against school districts that used to serve cold cheese sandwiches to students who could not pay. So-called lunch shaming has taken on other forms elsewhere, from Arizona to Pennsylvania.
New Mexico’s legislation outlines debt-collection procedures for unpaid breakfasts and lunches at public, private and religious schools that accept federal subsidies for student meals.
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