By Karen Morfitt

(CBS4) – Colorado voters will decide the fate of a plan to make free meals at school available to every student. It comes as federal waivers issued during the pandemic that allow all students to access meals at school are set to expire.

Gabby Medina, a mother of two, says the changes made during that program lifted a weight off her shoulders at time when nothing was certain.

“It gave so much peace knowing that their kids were getting fed at school and they didn’t have to worry about it,” she said.

The statewide nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado has been pushing for a healthy meal-for-all program for years, and now — with the approval of state lawmakers — will be moving forward with plans.

Ashley Wheeland, the group’s Director of Public Policy, she says COVID highlighted the need for a program like this.

“Most of the districts we talked to have seen an increase in students participating. They’ve seen anywhere from 20% to 40% more students eating, and it just showed that there was a gap,” she said.

The plan to pay for the program would mean approving a cap on certain tax deductions:

– For those making more than $300,000 a year it would be $12,000.
– For couples earning $600,000 or more there would be a $16,000 limit.

“We worked with the legislature to make sure it was bringing in really close to the amount that’s needed to cover the program and that’s $100 million a year,” Wheeland said.

With the federal waivers that allowed for pandemic lunch programs to operate coming to an end this summer, Colorado voters will now decide if meals for all will continue.

Medina says her family is hoping the help will continue for all families.

“It was huge relief for everybody,” she said.

An earlier bill that relied on state and federal funding alone was shot down by state lawmakers, partly due to the high cost. Some Republican lawmakers also voted no on moving this question to the ballot. The bill would also create grants encouraging schools to use local and fresh produce for their meals.

Karen Morfitt