The provincial government is sending back calls from the BC Greens for a universal school food program, but agrees with the opposition that the federal government needs to play a bigger role in picking up the tab.
The Ministry of Education said local schools know their communities best in responding to the proposal from the BC Greens. School food programs differ across districts because they respond to different needs, the ministry said in pointing out that school districts distribute funds to their respective schools. Some schools focus on serving up lunch, others on breakfast and snacks or all of the above, the ministry said.
This response comes after the BC Greens used this week’s start of the new school year to call for a universal program. BC Greens Leader Sonia Furstenau said the current absence of such a program has left the province with a “big hole” in its social safety net. “By making it universal, we can make sure all kids get nutritious meals and make life more affordable for families,” she said.
The party underpinned its call with figures showing rising food prices and food bank usage among the general population including children.
According to the latest available figures from Food Banks Canada’s 2022 Hunger Count, children accounted for 30 per cent of B.C. food bank users. The party said a universal school food program would ensure that children regardless of their families’ income would receive access to healthy, locally sourced meals subject to comprehensive guidelines.
BC Greens House Leader Adam Olsen also pointed out that a universal school program would help families during their day-to-day lives, easing time pressures and improving mental health.
The ministry acknowledged in its statement that global inflation has caused hardships among many families in pointing to the Feeding Futures program for families with K-12 children. The program worth $214 million over three years helps to purchase food, expand school kitchens and hire staff, the ministry said.
The provincial government in March also announced $200 million for food banks and food producers.
The provincial debate over a universal school food program also a national angle.
Furstenau said the introduction of such a program would set an example for other provinces to follow. She also used the occasion to remind the federal government about its promise of spending $1 billion over five years for the establishment of a national school meal program.
The ministry said the provincial government is also lobbying the federal government for federal funding, which it would welcome.