Ceci Maher

State Senator

Ceci Maher

Deputy President Pro Tempore

Working Together For Our Communities

January 12, 2023


HARTFORD – Following the late-2022 end of federal support for universal school lunches that supported all students grades K-12 during the apex of the COVID-19 pandemic, State Senators Saud Anwar (D-South Windsor) and Ceci Maher (D-Wilton) joined a coalition of representatives from food, hunger, school and health nonprofits this morning in Hartford to advocate for the funding of meals at Connecticut schools for all students. Those assembled called for immediate emergency funding to be passed by the legislature to support school meals through the end of the 2022-23 school year, also seeking legislative action to indefinitely fund meals for years to come.

The School Meals 4 All CT Coalition, who joined legislators at today’s event, includes members of dozens of organizations in public health, food assistance, social services and education. One in eight children suffer from hunger, advocates said, and with the end of student meals in late 2022, the programs that supplied important nutritional and societal benefits for children have been stripped, adding both hunger and stigma back into students’ lives. Especially important in the conversation is the low earning threshold for support with the end of this funding; currently in Connecticut, a family of four would need to earn less than $36,075 to qualify for no-cost meals and $51,338 to qualify for reduced cost meals.

“If a child is hungry, they will not be able to learn. They will not be happy. They are more likely to experience chronic illness and medical issues. That’s the reality,” said Sen. Anwar. “We used to see on television that in other parts of the world, children were going hungry, and we would stop to help. Little did we know we would have this conversation in our own communities, where our own children are going hungry. We are all united today in the name of future generations. Providing access to nutrition is something we must do; it is our responsibility. This will be a priority of Senate Democrats this session to address this issue long-term, and the Children’s Committee is already considering the issue at hand. We will pass this bill, hopefully by June, but in between now and then, we cannot afford to wait.”

“I would like to thank State Senator Cathy Osten for appropriating $30 million for school meals last year,” Sen. Anwar noted.

“We are considering an emergency certification to make sure children are fed,” said Sen. Maher. “We know there are issues of mental health, as well, in our communities; we cannot understate the impact of mental health issues on parents when they cannot feed their children. This is incredibly important and we need to address it now.”

“One in eight children suffer from hunger. Some qualify for free meals; others come from families whose income is too high to qualify, but still cannot afford school meals. Hungry kids can’t learn,” Lucy Nolan, Policy Director for End Hunger CT!, said. “No-cost school meals for all students provides nutritional, but also ends the stigma that comes with subsidies, lessens the administrative burden on schools and relieves the financial stress on families.”

“I believe that all kids should have the right to access food, and getting kids free meals in schools is an important way to make that happen,” said Hadley Hamilton-Moras, a fifth-grader at West Hartford’s Charter Oak School. “Having breakfast and lunch at school helps kids learn and helps kids who don’t have food at home know that school is a place that helps meet our needs. When school meals were free in West Hartford, all of my friends ate lunch every day. Since free meals stopped, I have friends who don’t eat lunch because they don’t have money to buy food and they don’t have food at home. I hope Connecticut will pass legislation to provide food to kids who wouldn’t have it otherwise.”

“As a pediatrician, every day, I see how important it is for kids to have access to healthy, nutritious food,” said Dr. Molly Markowitz, advocacy committee chair for the Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Children who experience food insecurity are at increased risks of negative health outcomes, including illness, chronic diseases and nutritional deficiencies. They’re also more likely to be hospitalized and experience higher medical costs. They experience impaired learning in schools, are more likely to experience developmental delays and are more likely to experience behavioral challenges. Hunger is also harmful to parents; parents in households experiencing insecurity are more likely to experience mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Additionally, Black and Brown children in Connecticut and across the country are more likely to experience food insecurity. Children in hunger will experience negative health outcomes. It’s important for legislators to provide access to free school meals to ensure students have the best opportunities to achieve healthy, bright futures.”

“In November, our district lost access to healthy meals for all. On December 1, we went back to paid meals. The effects were immediate and they were awful,” said Jen Bove, nutrition services director for East Hampton Public Schools. “I spent 100% of my first week of paid meals talking to concerned parents, explaining school meals were no longer free, helping them sign up for aid programs or explaining to them why they were not eligible for those programs. A lot of these conversations were heartbreaking and they left me feeling helpless. This year, we’ve received five times as many applications for free or reduced lunch as we did before the pandemic, but I have had to reject more than half of them because their incomes were too high to quality. Our nurses tell me we’ve had more students asking them for snacks and reporting hunger. We also had a 60% decrease in school breakfast participation in December and a 45% decrease in school lunches. We’ve also had a huge decrease in revenue and I have to cut back on the quality of meals. I’m frustrated. A hungry child can’t learn and no child should be made to feel less-than because they can’t afford a meal.”