Assemblywoman Luz Rivas Unveils Bill to Eliminate School Lunch Debt for All Low-Income Students

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO – Today, Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) was joined by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas), Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), and the American Diabetes Association to unveil AB 508 to eliminate school lunch debt for all low-income students across the State.

In 2019, 5-year-old Katelynn Hardee set up a cocoa-and-cookies stand to pay off the lunch debt of 123 students in her San Diego County school district. Hardee said, “her idea to erase her classmates’ debt came when she overheard another student’s mother talk about how hard it was to pay for something.” 

“It makes absolutely no sense that we are making poor kids pay for school lunches. While we provide meals to inmates, debt-free, low-income students are forced to incur a debt for a reduced school meal,” said Assemblywoman Luz Rivas. “Every penny counts for California’s working families, especially during these financially strenuous times. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of hard-working parents continue to lose their jobs and see their savings vanish. When students return to school, we should not burden them with debt when they cannot afford to pay for lunch.”

The National School Lunch Program ensures that every student has access to a school meal, whether these meals are provided for free or at a reduced price to eligible families. Families must earn between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty level in order to meet the eligibility requirement for reduced price meals. Students that qualify for reduced-price meals must make a copayment for their lunch or incur a debt if they cannot pay upfront. A working family of four earning an annual income between $34,059 and $48,470 must incur this cost in order for their kids to receive a single school meal. AB 508 will alleviate working families from this financial strain and provide assurance that their kids are not choosing to go hungry over incurring debt.

“No child should have to miss out on a school meal because their parents can't afford their lunch,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said. “I’m proud to co-author AB 508 to relieve this burden for so many parents whose children rely on school meal services to stay nourished, healthy, and prepared to learn.”

“Addressing food insecurity, and ensuring Californians, especially children, aren’t hungry is an important first step toward increasing health equity and reducing rates of diabetes in this state. This is important because we know that people who are food insecure have a twofold risk of developing diabetes,” said Francisco Prieto, MD, Co-Chair of the American Diabetes Association’s National Advocacy Committee. “The American Diabetes Association is proud to work with Assemblywoman Rivas on this important bill. We must do everything we can to make healthy and nutritious food available to all of California’s children.”

“Far too many Californians are finding themselves in increasing financial hardship during the pandemic, and the added strain of being unable to afford copayments for their children’s school lunches is yet another burden placed on families during an already challenging time,” said Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose). “It is due time for the State to step up and provide free school lunches to students in need to ensure that our children are no longer struggling with hunger and food insecurity.”

“It is heartbreaking to know how many children go to bed hungry every day. I applaud Assemblywoman Rivas for her work to eliminate another barrier to ending hunger. As a society it is incumbent upon us to do the right thing for our children,” said Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda).

“All children need proper nutrition to thrive in school, both academically and physically — but so many school kids lack access to nutritious meals and snacks during the school day,” said Assemblymember Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas), a co-author of the bill. “The pandemic has made these school meal programs even more critical to our struggling families. Allowing students who are currently eligible to receive reduced-price meals, and making these meals free of charge will ensure all eligible children have access to the food they need to learn, grow, and thrive.”

“We cannot let our students go hungry, and none of our families should be accumulating debt so their child can access meals at school. It has never been more critical to step up to address student food insecurity and alleviate this burden on our most vulnerable families - families like those in my district whose back-breaking farmworker labor feeds our nation while they too often go hungry. This pandemic has only intensified food access disparities, and I am proud to support Assemblywoman Luz Rivas’ efforts to eliminate student hunger,” said Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella).

“I have worked for years to ensure no child is denied a meal due to their economic status, and I am proud to continue that effort with Assemblywoman Rivas,” said Senate Majority Leader Robert M. Hertzberg (D–Van Nuys). “AB 508 is a common-sense and morally necessary measure that will ensure our most vulnerable students never have to choose between a full belly and a few cents.”

AB 508 is sponsored by the American Diabetes Association.

Assemblywoman Luz Rivas proudly represents the 39th Assembly District, which includes the City of Los Angeles communities of Arleta, Lake View Terrace, Granada Hills, Mission Hills, North Hollywood, Pacoima, Sun Valley, Sunland-Tujunga, Sylmar, and the City of San Fernando.