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New Maine Law Will Encourage High-Poverty Schools to Serve Summer Meals

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Proponents of a new Maine law say it will increase participation in the federal Summer Food Service Program, a program they say is currently underused by the state's school districts.

Under the Act To Further Reduce Student Hunger, districts with a school "in which at least 50 percent of students qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch during the preceding school year shall operate a federal summer food service program in the area served by that public school during the following summer vacation, if that public school operates a summer educational or recreational program." Those districts can opt out of the program following a public hearing and a vote of the school board.

The bill passed into law this week after legislators voted to override a veto by Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, who called it an "irresponsible unfunded mandate," according to The Bangor Daily News.

But the costs of providing summer meals will be covered entirely through federal reimbursements, the new law's supporters said.

The federal program is designed to meet summer nutritional needs for students who rely heavily on free and reduced-prices school lunches during the school year. But the program is underused, in part because not enough schools and community groups volunteer to be service sites, advocates for hungry children say. While 21 million children nationwide receive free and reduced meals during the school year, just 3 million participate in the summer meal program, the USDA said in an August blog post.

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