Bill would extend free school meals for all Nevada kids to 2024-2025 school year
State lawmakers are considering spending $43 million to continue providing Nevada students with free breakfast and lunch for the 2024-25 school year, citing the importance that nutritious meals have on children’s well-being.
Nevada students had received free school meals since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic through waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but those waivers expired at the end of June 2022.
Last year, the state’s Interim Finance Committee approved $75 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to provide free school meals for the 2022-23 school year — a policy proposed by former Gov. Steve Sisolak. Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas) said there are still enough ARP funds to cover free meals for the upcoming, 2023-2024 school year, so her bill, AB319, is seeking $43 million to extend the coverage to the 2024-25 school year.
A proposed amendment also moves the appropriation to the state Department of Agriculture, which administers the free meal programs, and covers public, charter and private schools to keep it consistent with current practice.
“There are still many families coming out of the pandemic that could use a little extra help,” Jauregui said at an Assembly Ways and Means Committee meeting on Friday. “Today we have the opportunity to help those families and reduce the number of children who face food insecurity.”
Three Square Director of Advocacy and Research Gabby Everett said that in 2021, there were more than 93,000 children across Clark, Esmeralda, Lincoln and Nye counties living in food- insecure households that lacked reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. As of June 2021, 75 percent (or more than 240,000) students in the Clark County School District qualified for free or reduced-price meals as part of a federal program for students from low-income households.
Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill (R-Carson City) said he supports the free school meals program for families in need, but questioned why it should benefit all families regardless of their income level.
“We've actually got people that earn several hundred thousand dollars a year,” he said. “I do believe that they can supply decent lunches and breakfast for their children and that money saved could be redirected.”
Jauregui said there are many families that are just outside the program’s income requirements. Everett added that the income requirements don’t take into account how much families are spending on housing and costs of living.
The bill has yet to receive its first committee vote with two weeks left in the session, but is exempt from legislative deadlines.