SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — A new bill submitted to the California assembly Thursday would eliminate school lunch debt for low-income students in the state.

AB 508, authored by Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) and sponsored by the American Diabetes Association, provides free lunches to eligible K-12 students.

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“No child should have to miss out on a school meal because their parents can’t afford their lunch,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said. “I’m proud to co-author AB 508 to relieve this burden for so many parents whose children rely on school meal services to stay nourished, healthy, and prepared to learn.”

Inspiration for the bill came in 2019, after 5-year-old Katelynn Hardee started a cocoa-and-cookies stand to raise funds to pay off the lunch debt of 123 students in a San Diego County school district.

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“It makes absolutely no sense that we are making poor kids pay for school lunches. While we provide meals to inmates, debt-free, low-income students are forced to incur a debt for a reduced school meal,” Rivas said.

Though the National School Lunch Program provides meals to every student, they’re not always free. Families must earn between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty level in order to meet the eligibility requirement for reduced price meals. Students that qualify for reduced price meals must make a copayment for their lunch or incur a debt if they cannot pay upfront. A working family of four earning an annual income between $34,059 and $48,470 must incur this cost in order for their kids to receive a single school meal.

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“Far too many Californians are finding themselves in increasing financial hardship during the pandemic, and the added strain of being unable to afford copayments for their children’s school lunches is yet another burden placed on families during an already challenging time,” said Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose). “It is due time for the State to step up and provide free school lunches to students in need to ensure that our children are no longer struggling with hunger and food insecurity.”