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Massachusetts passed a millionaire's tax. Now, the revenue is paying for free public school lunches.

All Massachusetts public school students will now be entitled to free lunch
All Massachusetts public school students will now be entitled to free lunch 02:05

Every kid in Massachusetts will get a free lunch, paid for by proceeds from a new state tax on millionaires.

A new 4% tax on the state's wealthiest residents will account for $1 billion of the state's $56 billion fiscal budget for 2024, according to state documents. A portion of those funds will be used to provide all public-school students with free weekday meals, according to State House News Service.

The new tax, which was approved by voters last year and went into effect in 2023, applies to Massachusetts residents with incomes over $1 million. The new tax adds an extra 4% on earnings above that threshold, making the state's income tax rate one of the highest in the U.S. 

Massachusetts' millionaires tax comes as some other Democratic-run states are seeking to bolster their finances through proposed wealth taxes, with the goal of funding social programs such as free school lunches for children. Proponents of wealth taxes argue that the richest Americans have grown their wealth partly due to tax breaks that aren't available to low- and middle-class families, and thus additional taxes on the rich are needed.

With its new budget, which was signed into law by Gov. Maura Healy last week, Massachusetts is now the seventh state to provide free school lunches to kids since COVID-19 funding for free school meals expired.

"[F]ree universal school meals will literally change lives, full stop," said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, in a statement earlier this month. "No child in Massachusetts will ever have to wonder how to get though the school day on an empty stomach."

Child care spending and bridges

Of the wealth tax's $1 billion in new revenue, about $524 million will be directed to education, including providing free school lunches as well as expanding child care access and financial aid for college students, according to the governor's office. The rest of the millionaire's tax will fund transportation initiatives, including work on bridges and mass transportation.

The guarantee for free school lunches in Massachusetts comes at an opportune time for families with budgets stretched thin by inflation and as food insecurity is on the rise.

Late last year, a Covid-19 pandemic-relief program that funded free breakfast and lunch for U.S. schoolchildren expired, renewing financial hardship and hunger concerns for many American families. Anti-hunger advocates have urged lawmakers to expand school meal programs, noting that research has shown that hunger can hurt a kid's performance in school.

A May study from the Greater Boston Food Bank found that 33% of Massachusetts households were food insecure in 2022. 

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