When New Mexico introduced a new bill last month that would ban “lunch shaming” in school cafeterias, protecting underprivileged kids from public humiliation over not being able to afford their schools lunches, the whole nation took notice.
And now, the federal government is considering making the lunch shaming bill a national law.
The Anti-Lunch Shaming Act was introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives on Monday with bipartisan support, according to The Hill.
The law would prohibit schools from drawing attention to students who have outstanding bills with the cafeteria or who don’t have enough money to pay for their lunch on a given day. It would also ban punishments like forcing students to do extra chores or wear a wristband or hand stamp.
There have been incidents across the country of children living in poverty being subjected to lunch shaming when they can’t afford their hot meal at school. Last year, a third-grade boy in Alabama has his arm stamped with ink that read, “I need lunch money.”
And a cafeteria worker in Pennsylvania made headlines when she quit her job after being told she had to take away meals from students short on funds.
“No student should be humiliated in front of their peers because their parents can’t afford to pay for a meal,” Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) said in a statement. “It is shocking and shameful that this happens to hungry children, but nearly half of all school districts use some form of lunch shaming.”
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Grisham joined Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.), along with Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), in introducing the bills.
The bill goes beyond just bullying, though, by instructing schools to work with the families in need to get resources, help enroll children in free meal programs, and make it easier for parents to pay bills, according to information from Udall’s office. It also mandates that schools talk to parents, not kids, about meal debt.
Approximately one in eight households in the US is food insecure, and there are more than 43 million people living in poverty across the country, according to World Hunger. School lunch programs are one of the vital food assistance programs that can help kids get adequate nutrition in order to get an education, but the shame that can come from public humiliation can be devastating to kids.
“Children who have no ability to pay their debts shouldn't be shamed, punished at school or even go hungry because their parents can't pay their school meal bills," Udall said.