Students in New Mexico can focus on their studies and not their bellies under a new law providing free meals to school kids from every economic background.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) on Monday signed the legislation, which ensures that more than $22 million will go toward free food for all K-12 students at public schools, regardless of their parents’ income.
New Mexico joins four other states ― California, Colorado, Maine and Minnesota ― in passing a permanent universal meals program for students. A few others have meal policies in place that are set to expire this or next year, though Nevada lawmakers are considering a bill to continue providing free food until 2025.
“When we feed our children, we’re feeding our future,” Grisham said in a statement. “These investments today will yield benefits tomorrow through generations of healthier New Mexicans.”
About 309,000 New Mexico students are currently eligible for free and reduced-price lunches through the National School Lunch Program, and the new law could affect around 70,000 kids who would otherwise need to pay, according to state education department data cited by The Associated Press.
The new law also focuses on using locally grown produce. Nearly 170 farmers, ranchers and food businesses currently sell locally produced goods to schools in 19 New Mexico counties, the AP reported.
Earlier this month, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed a similar bill into law guaranteeing free meals for school kids. Video showed a group of children hugging Walz after the signing.
While New Mexico’s free meals bill passed unanimously in the state’s House and Senate, some Republican lawmakers in Minnesota were more skeptical.
“I have yet to meet a person in Minnesota that is hungry,” state Sen. Steve Drazkowski (R) said on the Senate floor in St. Paul before voting against the legislation. “I have yet to meet a person in Minnesota that says they don’t have access to enough food to eat.”
Drazkowski represents Wabasha County, where more than 8% of kids lived in poverty in 2021, up from about 7% the previous year, according to data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau.
New Mexico’s new law takes effect July 1.