SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Politicians introduced the public to a bill Thursday that, if passed, would ensure no child in need goes without a school lunch.
In San Diego alone, 251,894 students are enrolled in the free/reduced lunch program, according to the San Diego County Office of Education. Those families make around $34,000-$48,000 a year, according to Assemblywoman Luz Rivas from Los Angeles.
"I was always on free or reduced lunch," Rivas said in a virtual press conference Thursday.
She opened up on how she was raised by a single mother scraping by and the stress finances impressed upon her.
"A child should not be worried about that stress, we should be worried about learning math and history and learning how to spell in elementary school and not how much money my mom needs to give me to eat that day," she said.
Rivas spearheaded bill AB 508. The bill states schools between kindergarten and 12th grade will provide eligible students with meals free of charge.
"AB 508 ensures that struggling families will never have to decide between paying for their child’s school lunch and paying for other basic needs like rent," Rivas said.
"One of the most important things we forget is our military families struggle," Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath said, alluding to the large military community in San Diego.
The number of San Diego families in need is projected to increase due to hardship created by the pandemic.
Politicians, like Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, are also fighting the stigma of enrolling in the program. Gonzalez said about 60% of San Diego County's students qualify but the Office of Education said only about 50% are enrolled.
"So that’s one of the reasons why we want to get rid of the co-payment to make sure all of those who are qualified actually take advantage of this great program," Gonzalez said.
The projected cost for the state is $15 million a year. Lawmakers hope to get the bill passed in time to take effect by January 2022.