AUGUSTA – A bill before the state Legislature would prevent so-called “food shaming” in Maine schools.
“It is well documented that more people are hungry in Maine than in any other New England state,” Rep. Michele Meyer, D-Eliot, a registered nurse and cosponsor of the measure, said Wednesday at a press conference supporting the bill. “One in five of our kids are food insecure. The school meal may be the only hot, nutritious meal of the day for many Maine children.”
The bill requires that eligible students be fed a meal regardless of ability to pay or past failure to pay. It prohibits punishing, openly identifying or stigmatizing a student who cannot pay or who has payments due. The bill also mandates communication around these issues must be with the parent or guardian, not the student.
Meyer said tactics like withholding hot meals, posting lists of delinquent accounts, stamping hands and offering alternative meals, frequently of lesser nutritional value, harm Maine students.
“Our schools should not be seeking to balance the lunchroom ledger by stigmatizing children. These tactics come at the cost of a child’s self-image and dignity – a price far too high for them to pay,” said Meyer. “LD 167 seeks to alleviate the emotional and mental anguish of kids struggling with the painful reality of hunger and food insecurity.”
The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee held a public hearing on LD 167, An Act To Prevent Food Shaming in Maine's Public Schools, on Wednesday. A work session will be scheduled in the coming days, at which time the panel will consider any amendments to the bill and vote on a recommendation to the full Legislature.