New unpaid meal debt law will make Nebraska kids healthier and less hungry

Kids and families across Nebraska have one fewer worry today as a new law that requires school districts to more responsibly collect unpaid meal debt takes effect.

Passed as part of LB1329, the new law bans districts from using debt collections agencies to collect school unpaid meal debt. The law goes into effect on July 19, 2024.

Unpaid meal debt can happen when students who are not certified to receive free school meals arrive in the cafeteria without cash in hand or in their school meals account to pay for their meals. This can lead to school districts providing alternative meals, students receiving no meals, or staff identifying and embarrassing students who owe school meal debt. Data indicates that families that accrue this debt just don’t have the money or don’t qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. It’s a difficult problem for schools and families.

Previous to the passage of the new law, some districts were also using debt collections agencies to pursue debts, which can subject both students and families to stressful, repetitious, and even abusive treatment. The new law protects students and families from that practice while still allowing districts to collect funds in other ways.

Nebraska Appleseed has worked with the Department of Education Nutrition Services department to develop some best practices for districts dealing with unpaid meal debt including adopting universal free meals options if possible.

This resource could be used to help educate your local schools. Feel free to share and reach out if you do!

Thanks for your advocacy on school nutrition issues in the Nebraska legislature and beyond.

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