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Wolf announces free breakfast program for school children

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Sept. 9 his $21.5 million plan to provide universal free school breakfast for 1.7 million students across the commonwealth this school year.

“It is completely unacceptable for a child to start the day hungry,” Gov. Wolf said. “I’m taking hunger off the table for Pennsylvania kids by creating the Universal Free Breakfast Program.

“Regardless of whether or not they qualify for free or reduced meals normally, every student enrolled in public or private schools will have the opportunity to feed their belly before they feed their mind this school year.”

The Universal Free Breakfast Program will go into effect Oct. 1, and run through the end of the 2022-23 school year.

More than 1.7 million Pennsylvania children enrolled in public schools, intermediate units, charter schools, career and technology schools, and child care institutions that participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs will benefit from this state-funded program.

The $21.5 million program is funded with previous year funding from the School Food Services General Fund appropriation.

Interested schools that do not currently participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs can find information for applying on the Department of Education’s website.

“We commend Gov. Wolf and the Administration for their dedication to a hunger-free Pennsylvania. Universal free school breakfast across Pennsylvania helps to ensure every student will start their day with a healthy, nutritious meal,” said School Nutrition Association of Pennsylvania Communications Chair Melissa Froehlich. “Research supports that a well-nourished child who starts the day with breakfast is more likely to be at school, has improved concentration and is more willing to participate in the classroom.

“Universal free breakfast for all students in Pennsylvania will strengthen child nutrition programs and address equity and stigma around school breakfast so that more children will have access to nutritious meals and set our students up for success in the classroom.”

From March 2020 through the 2021-22 school year, students were afforded free meals from school as a result of waivers approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For two years, nearly 1 million students have eaten for free each year.

Comparing the 2018-19 school year, when free breakfast was not universal, to 2021-22, when school was fully in-person and breakfast was universally free, breakfast consumption increased by nearly 16 percent.

That is 16 percent of Pennsylvania children who would start their day hungry this year.

And, that is a number that Gov. Wolf would not accept.