New Mexico is the first state to pass a law prohibiting “lunch shaming”—a practice of embarrassing, punishing, and/or forcing children to work when their parents can’t afford school lunches. For instance, in Alabama, “I Need Lunch Money” is stamped on the child’s arm before they are forced to clean the cafeteria in front of their fellow students.
The new Bill, called the Hunger-Free Student’s Bill of Rights, guide schools to work with parents on paying lunch debts. Any public, private, or religion school that receives federal subsidies to provide meals for students are required to follow the new Bill.
Senator Michael Padilla (D) introduced the bill because, as he described, he suffered lunch shaming as a child. “I made Mrs. Ortiz and Mrs. Jackson, our school lunch ladies, my best friends,” he said. “Thank goodness they took care of me, but I had to do other things like mop the floor in the cafeteria. It was really noticeable that I was one of the poor kids in the school.”
In some areas, cafeteria workers are forced to throw away hot lunches if a child is unable to afford it. “People on both sides of the aisle were genuinely horrified that schools were allowed to throw out children’s food or make them work to pay off debt,” said Jennifer Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed.
Some workers refuse to do this—a Pittsburgh cafeteria even quit her job after being asked to shame hungry students. She was even paying for some of their lunches.
Hopefully, more states will follow New Mexico’s example.