Senate Bill 4, known as The Healthy Universal School Meals for Children Act, passed unanimously in the House Sunday, making free meals at schools for every student in New Mexico a reality.

This bill, generated from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s FY24 budget proposal and sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla, makes school meals available at no cost for every student in the state. It passed 35-0 in the Senate on March 4.

Public school students had received free meals for the past two years because of federal funding stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. That funding expired this school year, and Rio Rancho Public Schools has already seen lunch debt balances soar.

“Universal free meals were discontinued at the beginning of the ’22-’23 school year,” RRPS Communications Director Wyndham Kemsley said. “Since then, Rio Rancho Public Schools has seen a return to student lunch debt balances totaling $43,560 as of (last) week. This fact underscores a need in our community. With this legislation, we will be able to provide healthy school meals to all of our students, free of charge.  Research shows that children are better prepared to learn when they begin their day with a well-balanced breakfast followed by a healthy lunch. The district is committed to ensuring that hunger is not a barrier to learning and this bill supports that goal.”

According to a joint statement from Mayors Tim Keller (Albuquerque), Ken Miyagishima (Las Cruces) and Alan Webber (Santa Fe), one in every five students in New Mexico live in hunger.

“This legislation will also help to ensure these critical meals are high-quality and nutritious, supporting schools in new efforts to serve local, fresh and nourishing food that is reflective of students’ diverse cultural backgrounds.”