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New law gives more students free lunch

In this Aug. 13 file photo, students eat lunch at Milagro Middle School in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – New Mexico schools will no longer charge a copayment to students who qualify for reduced-price breakfast and lunch under legislation signed into law Monday.

The change is expected to cover more than 12,000 students who would otherwise have to pay up to 40 cents per meal.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the measure, House Bill 10, after it passed the House and Senate without a single dissenting vote in this year’s legislative session.

“Many of our families miss the criteria to qualify for free school lunch, but still have difficulty coming up with the copayment for a reduced fee meal, particularly where they have multiple children in school,” Lujan Grisham said in a written statement. “A 40-cent copay should never come between a child and the food they need to grow and learn.”

Legislative analysts estimate the policy will cost the state about $650,000 a year, though they warned it could climb much higher, depending on student participation in programs that extend the school year.

The new legislation eliminates all copays and requires the Public Education Department to cover the cost, starting next school year. The state’s main budget proposal, House Bill 2, includes about $650,000 in extra funding for the department to offset the cost.

State officials also said the law could generate new federal funding because of federal matching rates for school meals.

House Bill 10 is jointly sponsored by Democratic Reps. Willie Madrid of Chaparral and Melanie Stansbury of Albuquerque.

Some students already qualify for free meals at school, of course, but others have been charged a copayment, depending on their family size and income.

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