We applaud the Legislature’s inclusion of funding for school meals in its updated budget bill, which was signed by the governor last week.

An earlier bill, LD1679, “An Act to Address Student Hunger through Expanding Access to Free School Meals,” which sailed through the House and Senate in June with bipartisan support, was incorporated into the budget to provide the funding.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, the main sponsor of LD1679, said, “Maine children should be able to focus on learning math and playing with their friends, not an empty stomach. By providing free, nutritious school meals, no questions asked, we can ensure Maine kids can focus on being kids. … No child should have to go to school hungry, especially not in this state. Between our coastal waters and acres of farmland, we can feed our kids, support our farmers and grow our economy. I hope other states will follow our lead.” We heartily agree.

According to hunger advocacy group Full Plates Full Potential, a recent study showed that school meals are the most nutritious meals that many kids eat. Last year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government, which administers the school-based child nutrition programs, instituted a waiver that allowed for all students to eat school meals for free. That waiver has been extended through the 2021-22 school year, meaning that Maine’s policy will take effect in the 2022-23 school year.

From our own experience of talking with school officials, we know that some parents are reluctant to ask for free or reduced-price meals for their children, which needlessly harms the children and diminishes their ability to learn. Parents’ self-esteem should not be pitted against their children’s well-being.

According to information on Good Shepherd Food Bank’s website, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reports that 13.6% of Maine households are food insecure, well above the national average of 11.7%. The agency projects that the number of food insecure residents in Waldo County will rise to 5,460 this year, or 13.8% of the population. Food insecurity among children in the county is projected to be a staggering 21.2%, a 9% rise from 2019.

A policy of providing free meals for all removes the stigma of poverty and food insecurity that can be a cruel additional penalty to hunger itself. It also ensures that all children will receive at least two nutritious meals every school day, which is vital for proper physical and mental development.

Schools are among the last institutions in our country that retain the support of a large segment of the people — even as they, too, face criticism — and are uniquely positioned to promote an ethic of basic equality and fairness to all, and humane concern for all. We think it is not too much to say that feeding healthy meals to all students can help realize that ideal.

Kudos to Doudera

Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, deserves credit for helping to protect Maine children from firearm violence and accidents. Her bill to reduce child access to loaded firearms by enforcing the use of safe storage became law July 1.

It seems to us that people in our community generally can feel good about this law. It does not seek to take away anyone’s right to own weapons for hunting, defense or as collectors. It does hold gun owners accountable for storing them safely out of the reach of unsupervised children.

LD 759 states that a parent, foster parent, guardian, or other person caring for a child, who acts with criminal negligence by storing or leaving a loaded firearm where a child under age 16 can gain access to and use the firearm, can be charged with having committed a Class D crime.

Her press release on the law also noted that, according to Giffords Law Center, firearms are the third-leading cause of death for Maine children under the age of 17.

Doudera represents Camden, Islesboro and Rockport in the Maine House.

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