BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – The governor has signed into law a bill that makes lunch and breakfast free for students who are in the reduced lunch program.

The USDA estimates about 7,000 children in Louisiana qualify for the reduced-price lunches, which are separate from the free meals program. Getting a hot meal at school is important for academic success, but some families can struggle to afford the cost.

“That can add up. And so any little bit that we can provide savings to the working men and women, or working families in the state, I think we should do it,” said State Rep. Kyle Green, D-Marrero.

The federal government already has grants to help reimburse the school districts for free and reduced lunch. Act 305 makes it so Louisiana picks up the tab for the reduced lunch part that is not covered, which comes out to about $860,000 a year. That means families who make 130-185% of the poverty level will have one less expense to worry about.

“What I’m trying to do is ensure that those children get at least two good meals a day,” Green said.

He said children face “lunch shaming” from other students when they can’t afford to get a full meal. Schools have to give nutritional snacks to kids who can’t pay for their meals, which alerts their peers to their inability to pay and could lead to bullying.

“There are a lot of kids, if you just based it on the numbers, [who] are probably going to school hungry,” Green said.

His next goal is to get free lunch for all students. The main hurdle will be how to put the money into the budget permanently moving forward.

“A lot of my colleagues were like, ‘Why are we not doing this universally?’ That would have cost the state probably about $40 million annually,” Green said.

Some schools serving a majority of low-income families can already apply for the Community Eligibility Provision to get free meals for all and will not be affected by this law. The new law will be implemented in the 2023-2024 school year this fall.