MANASSAS - Delegate Danica Roem (D-13th) announced today that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed her Special Session legislation, HB 5113, into law after it unanimously passed both chambers of the General Assembly. HB 5113 requires school participation in the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) by any public schools in the Commonwealth that meet minimum federal U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service eligibility requirements.
The Community Eligibility Provision is a meal service option for schools and school divisions that provides free school breakfast and lunch to students in low-income areas. The passage of HB 5113 will guarantee free school meals for up to 109,000 more Virginia students in approximately 180 schools. According to the USDA, “CEP enables participating schools to offer meals to all students at no cost, without requiring families to complete income eligibility applications.”
“This is model legislation I encourage state legislators across the country to consider adopting for their own states. It will save money for both parents and local school divisions while ensuring kids are well-nourished and ready to learn,” said Roem. “I thank the advocates who fought for this bill; House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn for prioritizing its passage; Dels. Delores McQuinn, Cia Price and Patrick Hope for signing on as chief co-patrons; all my colleagues for voting for it and Governor Northam for signing my legislation into law.”
Delegate Roem and her team collaborated with a diverse coalition to pass HB 5113, including the Virginia Department of Education, former First Lady of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, No Kid Hungry Virginia, the School Nutrition Association of Virginia, the Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative, the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis and other advocates.
“I applaud Delegate Roem for serving as a tireless advocate to ensure students can access nutritious foods at school," said Atif Qarni, Virginia Secretary of Education. "When every student in a school has access to free meals, it removes any stigma free and reduced lunch may carry and simplifies school nutrition program management, saving valuable time and money for Virginia families and school administrators. At a time of great change, it is more valuable than ever to increase the number of students who consistently receive free school meals."
"Schools are the most practical and sustainable way to reach hungry children because they are trusted resources and anchors in their communities. Passage of this important legislation advances our years-long effort to make Virginia a national model for leveraging federal child nutrition programs and ensuring all students have access to the nutrition they need to thrive in and out of the classroom,” said Dorothy McAuliffe, former First Lady of Virginia. “Children can't be hungry for knowledge, if they are just plain hungry.”
“This is an excellent step forward for Virginia and a great way to ensure all students in eligible schools receive free meals while the schools receive federal reimbursement,” said Salaam Bhatti, director of Virginia Hunger Solutions at the Virginia Poverty Law Center. “While we wrestle with high levels of unemployment for the near future and its effects, this law will help eligible schools take a closer look at the CEP program and collaborate with the DOE to see how they could make it work.”
“HB 5113 is a huge step in creating more equitable policies in our schools throughout the Commonwealth while also limiting the burden of school meal debt for families. VA BLOC members have worked on this issue for three years as we believe no child or family should have to worry whether or not a student will eat in school,” said Cameron Bell, lead organizer at the Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative. “We applaud efforts like Del. Roem's to make sure that localities are utilizing available federal resources to help their residents. We will continue to work to make sure our children have the food and tools they need for better health and educational outcomes.”
“SNA-VA is proud to support this important legislation, which removes the barriers for those school districts that can utilize CEP to benefit their students by providing nutritional meals to students in need," said Sandy Stokes, president of the School Nutrition Association of Virginia.
HB 5113 is Del. Roem’s sixth school meal bill since 2019 to be signed into law, joining HB 2400 of 2019 and HBs 697, 698, 703 and 1426 of 2020. This bill is Roem’s seventeenth bill overall that has been signed into law since 2019 and her fourteenth bill signed into law of 2020, the most in one year from the delegate representing the Thirteenth District since the General Assembly drew the district into Northern Virginia in 1991.