Senator Becker Introduces ‘Food with Care’ Bill to Extend State Universal Meals Funding to Child Care Providers

SACRAMENTO Senator Josh Becker announced legislation today to extend California’s Universal Meals funding – which will soon make free breakfast and lunch available to all public school students – to state-licensed daycare providers so they also can provide free meals to children who are too young to attend school.

“California’s youngest children cannot be left out of our state’s groundbreaking meals policy to tackle food insecurity among learners,” said Senator Becker, D-Peninsula. “SB 1481 would ensure that all families can send their kids to child care centers offering free, nutritious meals. The Food with Care bill also would remove the financial burden on child care providers who currently aren’t fully reimbursed for providing meals to children.”

Starting in late summer for the 2022-23 school year, California will launch its free meals program for K-12 public school students under precedent-setting provisions of the state budget deal forged by the Governor and legislators last year. SB 1481 would enable preschool-age kids to also have access to free meals by changing California’s rules for a state and federally funded nutrition program that currently covers a portion of meal costs for children in daycare and requires the balance to be paid by care providers.

SB1481 allows state budget funding for full reimbursement of meals provided by daycare family homes and child care centers as long as they abide by nutrition standards and other rules set by the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). SB1481 also eliminates the current State Meal Reimbursement rule, known as the “per meal pay penalty,” which at most provides reimbursement for up to 75% of meal costs. The unreimbursed balance amounts to more than $34 million annually. As a result, individual providers who operate family daycare homes – providers who tend to be Black, Latina and immigrant women, underpaid and often experiencing food insecurity themselves – and daycare centers strain to cover the per meal pay penalty. Individual providers and child care centers that cannot afford the costs typically opt out of the reimbursement program and offer no meals, or only a snack, to children.

What Child Care Providers and Their Advocates Say

Child care providers and their advocates say the system under current law further disenfranchises low-income communities and unfairly impacts providers and the children being cared for.

"SB 1481 follows two years of unprecedented hardship on children, families and those who care for them,” said Samantha Marshall, director of programs and policy for CACFP Roundtable. “Now is the right time for California to lead the way and ensure free meals for children in child care. This legislation is a positive and necessary step forward to feeding our youngest learners and addressing the historical wage inequities, rooted in racist policies, of our essential child care workforce. CACFP Roundtable is pleased to support Senator Becker's efforts with SB 1481."

“Every child in California deserves to be well nourished and thrive,” said Kameron Mims-Jones, policy advocate for Nourish California “Every child care provider deserves fair access to state resources. Nourish California is proud to join Senator Becker in calling for an end to a long-standing, biased state law that discounts the nutritional needs of California's youngest children and undervalues child care providers. SB 1481 invests in a more equitable child care system by ensuring free meals for kids in child care and fair payments to providers.”

“I have been a family child care provider in Santa Clara County for almost 27 years,” said Georgia Stalions. “When I moved to a new neighborhood in 2004, I went from a higher reimbursement to a lower one and had to make adjustments in order to afford the cost of quality food for the children. I have noticed a significant difference in the quality and variety of food I am able to provide. The Food with Care Bill would greatly help me to serve high quality food, focusing on organic foods including fresh fruit and vegetables and organic whole grains, as well as adding more protein at breakfasts. I believe this extra reimbursement would significantly impact the value of the Child Care Food Program and provide more equity for childcare providers, parents and their children.

Genevieve Pyeatt, nutrition and health education manager at Catalyst Family Inc., said: “We sponsor the CACFP in over 160 child care centers throughout California. The Food with Care bill will substantially increase our monthly CACFP reimbursement and directly impact the quality, quantity, and nutritional value of the meals we provide the children in our centers. With a higher reimbursement, our food budgets will allow for an increase in the frequency we serve whole grains, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables daily. Young children in child care deserve equity in the quality and quantity of meals they receive when in child care to increase their health and well being to grow and learn.”

More Than a Dozen Legislators Coauthor SB 1481

Thirteen legislators have joined Senator Becker as SB 1481 coauthors: Senator Lena Gonzalez, D Long Beach, Senator Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, Senator Connie Leyva, D-Chino, Senator Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, Senator Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, Assemblymember Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, Assemblymember Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, Assemblymember Luz Rivas, D-San Fernando Valley, Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblymember Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley.

“In a rural community like mine in the High Desert, these programs can be a child’s saving grace,” said Assemblymember Lackey. “All young people should be free from the stress of explaining their circumstance when seeking nourishment. I am happy to join Senator Becker as a partner in prioritizing the basic needs of our children.”

“Making sure that all children have access to good food and sound nutrition sets a strong foundation for them to grow up healthy and succeed,” said Senator Newman. “I’m proud to be a co-author of SB 1481, which will build upon the critical investments the Legislature made last year and will help ensure that children in childcare across California have the resources and support they need to thrive. As a proud dad to a strong-willed 5-year-old, I’m well aware that a hungry kid is a challenged kid.”

“I am a proud coauthor of SB 1481,” said Assemblymember Mullin. “Food insecurity is a growing problem and access to healthy nutritious food is of critical importance to everyone. It is even more critical for young children who are in their early stages of growth and development. As part of our most vulnerable population, no child should go hungry and should absolutely be eligible for free nutritious meals within the child care setting.”

SB 1481 was introduced February 18 and is expected to be heard in a Senate policy committee this spring.


Media Contact: Leslie Guevarra,, 415-298-3404