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Illinois House Bill allows K-12 students to receive free school lunches

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CARMI, Ill. (WEVV) — Lawmakers in Illinois have passed a new law that will allow K-12 students to get free school lunches.

HB2471, also known as the "Healthy School Meals for All Program" was passed after a federal program for free school meals for the COVID-19 pandemic was set to expire.

The bill passed the Illinois House of Representatives by a vote of 88 to 24 and the Illinois Senate by a vote of 52 to 1.

A growing concern amongst families and educators, was whether or not the expiring federal program for free school meals would force students to once again pay for meals and risk going hungry at school.

44News spoke to Jarrod Newell, Superintendent of Carmi-White County Unit 5 Schools, who says the schools feel relieved that the burden is coming to an end.

"Not having to worry about that moving forward and for our entire state to have free meals is extremely beneficial to our school district" said Newell.

"Kids are going to get a healthy breakfast, and a healthy lunch, some of which could be the only meals that those kids are able to get" he continued

Studies show that students that are not adequately fed can have a difficult time concentrating and it can affect their mood and behavior.

Newell says the district has already been providing free meals since the COVID-19 pandemic, but that administrators believe the new bill will permanently make everyone’s lives a lot easier.

"To go through all the hoops that you have to jump through, we’re excited for that change. And for our community, making sure that our kids have always had healthy meals has been a priority."

Schools can now apply to the state for reimbursement. 

The bill now heads to Governor J.B. Pritzker's desk, where it awaits to be signed into law.

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