BOSTON - Gov. Maura Healey has made it official - Massachusetts public school students will get free lunch for good.
"Nobody calls them free lunch anymore or free meals, it's just lunch, everybody just has lunch," said Rebecca Wood, who told WBZ TV, she wasn't always confident her 11-year-old, Charlie, would have access to school lunch.
"It's awful, it truly is. She'd come home and say, Mom, you have to give money to the cafeteria again. I didn't want her to know we were struggling and she had strangers telling her that we were," said Wood.
And like so many others, Charlie didn't qualify for reduced lunch, forcing Wood to make impossible decisions.
"I would get a paycheck in but with the high cost of housing and the medical expenses, it was gone," said Wood.
"In Massachusetts if you were a family of four making $52,000 a year, you were not eligible for free or reduced-price meals. There are a lot of families in Massachusetts struggling to get by on $52,000," said Erin McAleer, the CEO and president of Project Bread, a group advocating for statewide access to food. Project Bread said as of May 2023, 26.2% of Massachusetts households are food insecure. The shocking statistic lead to roughly 18,000 people reaching out to elected officials, ensuring the free meals program became a reality.
"We've taken the burden off of kids and kids can just go to school and get free school meals," says McAleer.
The program will be paid for with both federal and state funding, including help from the 2022 voter-approved fair share amendment that levies a 4% tax on income over one million dollars – that tax is used for transportation and public education systems.
"We know that students who are sitting in a classroom hungry are not learning," said McAleer.