LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – On Monday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer designated this week to be considered School Breakfast Week throughout the state, calling attention to the education budget pertaining to relieving food costs for students K-12 Public Schools. 

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the federal government provided funding to the states to provide school meals for students through the Healthy School Meals for All program.  That funding ceased this school year, and so far only five states have picked up the tab on providing those meals for free to students again. 

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“Right now in Michigan, one in seven children are hungry, and that means about 300,000 children and food insecurity is more prevalent among black and hispanic households and those that are low-income ,” Collin McDonough, Michigan Government Relations Director for the American Heart Associations said, “What we’re trying to do with this program is reinstate what was happening since March of 2020, throughout the Pandemic that ended this school year.” 

It would provide no cost breakfast and lunch to all public school students, and it’s time to make Michigan the seventh state to fund this program again according to McDonough.  The other states that have already passed budgets to reinstate the free meal programs include California, Colorado, Maine, Vermont, Nevada, and Massachusetts according to McDonough.  Other states with ongoing Healthy School Meals For All campaigns are Illinois, Ohio, and Minnesota, and other states outside of the Midwest. 

“It’s hard for kids to learn on an empty stomach,” Governor Whitmer said in a statement. “Every student should be able to start their day with a nutritious meal so they can stay energized throughout the day and focus on class. Let’s deliver on my budget proposal to offer all 1.4 million public school students in Michigan free breakfast and lunch, saving families over $850 a year and helping them succeed.”   

The Governor’s FY 2023-2024 Budget included $160 million to help students by providing free breakfasts and lunch to all Michigan’s public school students, after recommendations from groups including the American Heart Association. 

“We’re very excited and we’re very pleased that the governor included that [recommendation to enroll the state in the program for $160 million] and on top of the number that she included, she also set aside $1 million for school meal debt elimination which we are thrilled about because one of the main drivers for this aside from the positive benefits like increased attendance, increased test scores, decreased behavioral problems, another huge issue is the issue of stigma and student meal debt, so this puts a huge burden not only on families, but on  schools and school boards themselves, so we’re very pleased that the governor included that number as well,” McDonough said.  

McDonough acknowledged the AHA has been working with the Legislature to also seek legislation for more long lasting relief beyond the year to year granted by annual budgets. 

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“We’re working with appropriators to make sure that this fiscal year is funded but we’re also working on legislation that would make this program permanent.” McDonough said, “Because this program was ongoing from the federal government for two and a half years and then suddenly was gone, this was something that students, schools, and families have relied on.” 

The AHA has studies to support the claim that you can’t learn when you’re hungry, and the Healthy School Meals for All Program has contributed to greater academic performance and nationwide noticeable decrease in Body Mass Index (BMI) with students according to the AHA.  

“Healthy School Meals for All improves food security and diet quality, it advances student health and health equity, helps strengthen school budgets, and helps remove the stigma surrounding students and families unable to pay, and eliminates the current school debt,” McDonough said.  

Beyond the Healthy School Meals for All program, the AHA also encourages and challenges nutritional eating and a physically fit lifestyle through the Kids Heart Challenge to students and families in schools according to Matt Johnson, Communications Director for the American Heart Association in West Michigan.  

“Kids Heart Challenge is another initiative with the American Heart Association that works to educate kids on their overall health and wellbeing,” Johnson said, “They work to raise money with their families, and educate their families, and learn CPR, and learn about healthy eating habits and learning about physical fitness and practice that physical fitness.  They are incentivized to achieve a certain amount of exercise through their programs in schools.” 

Additionally, No Kid Hungry and the School Nutrition Association of Michigan have also been helping drive reinstituting the Healthy School Meals For All Program again in the state according to the AHA.