New Mexico School Meals To Remain Free For Most Despite Federal Reversal


About 57,000 New Mexico students who qualify for reduced-price school meals will continue eating for free because of legislation championed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to offset federally mandated co-pays.

House Bill 10, passed in the 2020 regular session, required the Public Education Department to cover co-pays that families in the reduced-price meal program are expected to contribute toward the cost of their children’s school-based meals. The bill came with a recurring $625,000 annual appropriation.

“Gov. Lujan Grisham pushed for this legislation because she wanted to make sure school meals would be free for as many New Mexico students as possible,” Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said. “This safety net could mean the difference between a full belly and an empty one for many of our kids, and you can’t learn on an empty stomach.”

The funding wasn’t needed the last two years and reverted to the state’s General Fund because federal pandemic legislation made school meals free for every student, regardless of family income. 

The every-student-eats-free policy expired July 1 with implementation of the federal Keep Kids Fed Act, which President Biden signed on June 25. This means that if New Mexico had not created the safety net in 2020 as part of Gov. Lujan Grisham’s hunger initiative, families whose students qualify for reduced-price meals would resume paying copayments – just as families that do not qualify for any meal assistance must resume paying for their children’s school meals just as they did before the pandemic. 

“New Mexico puts a priority on feeding our kids,” said Michael Chavez, director of the Public Education Department’s Student Success and Wellness Bureau. “By covering these school meal co-pays, we’re giving hard-working families one less bill to worry about at the end of the week while assuring them that their students will get the nutrition they need to be alert and ready to learn.”

Schools will be required to report the number of reduced-price meals served so the department can reimburse them for the amount of uncollected co-pays, which are capped at 40 cents per meal.

Parents or guardians apply for free or reduced-price school meals through their children’s schools. Schools send the application form home with students at the beginning of each school year, but families may request an application from their schools and submit it at any time. 

Eligibility is based on household income and family size. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for reduced price meals. 

N.M. School Meals 
By The Numbers: 2022179,737: Number of NM students who qualify for free school meals
56,683: Number of NM students qualify for reduced-price school meals
71%: Percentage of NM students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals
40 cents: Maximum co-pay for a school meal
$4.56: Federal reimbursement  for every lunch served
$2.61: Federal reimbursement for every breakfast served
$36,000: Approximate maximum income for family of four to qualify for free school meals
$51,000: Approximate maximum income for family of four to qualify for reduced-price meals