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PRESS RELEASE: $17 Million State Investment in Free School Meals Improves Well-being of 114,000 Oregon Students Facing Hunger


June 8, 2023

Contact: Morgan D. Dewey, (801) 712-7969,

$17 Million State Investment in Free School Meals Improves Well-being of 114,000 Oregon Students Facing Hunger

Champions of free school meals applaud legislative milestone, urge sustained funding to ensure long-term success

SALEM, OR — Three of every four Oregon schools will be able to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students thanks to new funding approved by the legislative Ways and Means Committee this week. Leveraging landmark changes to a key federal nutrition program, the $17 million state investment will help as many as 200 additional schools offer free breakfast and lunch to all students. As passed in the Oregon Department of Education budget, the expansion will begin in the 2024-2025 academic year.

"This is an important step in the right direction to give schools the resources they need to offer nutritious meals to more students," said Representative Courtney Neron (D - Wilsonville), an educator and Chief Sponsor of the bill. "I believe we must continue to stabilize school districts who rely on these dollars to fund student meals and advocate for full funding of the Hunger Free Schools Account so we can do our part to eliminate childhood hunger in Oregon."

Bolstered by widespread public support nationwide for free school meals, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a celebrated proposal in March to make nearly all schools eligible to participate in the Community Eligibility Program (CEP). Oregon’s $17 million investment offsets varying federal reimbursement rates that have long barred too many Oregon schools from participating in critical efforts to reduce child hunger.

“This is an important step forward and we are hopeful that our state will continue to expand access and funding for free school meals to all students,” shares Reed Scott-Schwalbach, Oregon Education Association President. “Hunger should not be a barrier to student success.”

The availability of sufficient nourishing food significantly influences a child’s ability to perform academically — with impact on earning potential well into adulthood — especially for low-income students. Oregon was once a national leader in expanding access to free school meals through the 2019 Student Success Act, but now trails California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and New Mexico, which all ensure universal access to school meals.

“Expanding access to school meals for Oregon children is a crucial step for kids and families. Access to universal school meals eliminates stigma and shame, and we know that universal access to school meals reduces illnesses, as well as anxiety and depression,” shared Dr. Alanna Braun, Portland-based pediatrician and Immediate Past President of Oregon Pediatric Society. “Oregon children deserve to be healthy.”


  • Representative Ben Bowman | "I am thrilled by the step forward we are taking this session, and we still have further to go to ensure every student in Oregon has access to healthy meals at school.” said Representative Ben Bowman. “We will continue to fight for state and federal investment into universal school meal programs because we know how important they are to student success."

  • School Nutrition Association | “Although there is still a lot of progress to be made, we appreciate the hard work of our legislators for helping us get a step closer to feeding all Oregon students healthy school meals at no charge,” shared Debby Webster, President.

  • Oregon Food Bank | “A coalition of over 30 organizations called on legislators to provide full funding for free school meals this year through House Bill 5014. That’s really our north star,” said Matt Newell-Ching, Senior Policy Manager at Oregon Food Bank. “This new funding is a good down payment on our effort to reach the goal of universal access to school meals, and we will continue until Oregon gets there. We believe it’s a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.”

  • Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon | “There are so many ways a student can fall through the cracks and go hungry at school — paperwork issues, employment changes, meal debt, even stigma. Fortunately, the changes governments made during the pandemic proved there’s a better way,” said David Wieland, Policy Advocate at Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. “Universal access to meals is good for our schools, good for parents and good for kids — and we have a real chance to make sure everyone has the resources we need to succeed.”

  • Portland-based Pediatrician | “Research shows that access to school meals boosts children’s nutrition, health, and educational achievement,” says Dr. Ellen Stevenson, a Portland-based pediatrician. “The additional funding from HB 5014 will actively improve children’s outcomes.”

  • Portland Public Schools | “Oregon has an opportunity to maximize the impact of the pending USDA rule to enable more school districts to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge through the Community Eligibility Provision,” shares Whitney Ellersick, Senior Director, Nutrition Services. “With full funding, PPS may be able to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all students at every one of our schools in the district. This kind of investment would benefit students, families, and schools. We hope the Legislature can identify additional funding so that we can work in partnership to feed children in Portland and communities across the state.”

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Excited group of school-age children surrounding a wagon of oranges celebrate with their hands in the air. Photo courtesy of Oregon Food Bank.


Elementary school student sits at a lunchroom table with food smiling. Photo courtesy of Oregon Food Bank.


At Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, we work alongside those most impacted by hunger and poverty to advocate for systemic changes and better access to food. We believe everyone has the right to be free from hunger. To bring that vision into reality, we raise awareness about hunger, connect people to nutrition programs, and advocate for systemic changes.


At Oregon Food Bank, we believe that food and health are basic human rights for all. We know that hunger is not just an individual experience; it is also a community-wide symptom of barriers to employment, education, housing and health care. That’s why we work systemically in our mission to end hunger in Oregon: we build community connections to help people access nutritious, affordable food today, and we build community power to eliminate the root causes of hunger for good. Join us online at and @oregonfoodbank on social media.

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