NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – This will be the first year that all students in New Mexico, no matter the household income, will be eligible for free breakfast and lunch. 

“We are excited to offer universal free meals to all the students here in Rio Rancho. That’s the first time that has occurred in the district and the state,” said Rio Rancho Public Schools Student Nutrition Executive Director Felix Griego.

Last year, 38.9% of students in Rio Rancho got free school meals. This year, the district is among dozens of others able to give free meals to all of their students. Family income doesn’t matter in this case.

“You know, families, on average, are going to be saving about a thousand dollars for lunch alone,” Kendal Chavez, the food and hunger coordinator for the New Mexico Governor’s Office

While it’s saving parents money, it’s also costing the state about an extra $30 million per year, and the state also relies heavily on the federal government to help pay for meals. 

The only way the state gets federal meal funds is if parents fill out “free and reduced lunch forms.”

Those forms ask about how much money families make. 

“Other states have run into challenges with parents submitting applications,” said Chavez.  

Rio Rancho schools are raffling off a TV to parents who share their data. 

“We feel that it’s going to, you know, encourage that participation [to] help us leverage that state and federal funds get more resources for our students here at Rio Rancho Public Schools,” said Griego.  

The state said about $166 million in government funds were spent on school meals last year. 

Rio Rancho received $5,692,310 in National School Lunch Program last year.  

“We need households and parents to understand that submitting the application is really critical, sort of, for the fiscal longevity of the program,” said Chavez.  

The state said even though parents don’t fill out the form, the students will still get a free meal.