Lawmakers advocating to make school meals available to all students at no cost got a hand Tuesday from a New England neighbor, as Maine Senate President Troy Jackson urged Massachusetts to follow his state’s lead in passing the bill.

Introducing himself as “a fifth-generation logger from northern Maine,” Jackson spoke of his own experience accessing reduced-price meals as a child, saying some of his classmates thought he was rich because his lunch wasn’t free while others looked down on him for not paying full price.

He testified before the Education Committee in support of universal school meals legislation (H 714, S 314) from Democrats Rep. Andy Vargas of Haverhill and Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Everett. Under the bills, families would not be required to sign up for free meals or provide income information.

“As a lawmaker, and more importantly as a parent, I want children in Maine and all across this great nation to get a chance to focus on being kids, on playing with their friends and learning how to read, not worrying about where their next meal is going to come from and who’s going to pay for it,” Jackson said. “Now I imagine the folks in Massachusetts want the very same thing that I do. No child should have to ever prove that they’re worthy of nutritious food, regardless of which state that they live in.”

DiDomenico, the committee’s Senate vice chair, said a quarter of food-insecure children in Massachusetts do not qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and breakfast.

“This is important because we can’t wait for next year or two years from now,” he said. “Our children are hungry today.”

Vargas said students are more academically successful with universal free meals, making them “just as essential as universal free desks and visits to the school nurse.”

(Copyright (c) 2022 State House News Service.

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