LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Some school districts in Arkansas are urging families to take advantage of a new state law aimed at helping parents cover the cost of their student’s school lunches.

Act 656 expands the current program in the state offering reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches for students based on their family’s income.

The program now allows any student eligible for reduced-price meals to receive them for free.

State Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) sponsored the bill, alongside State Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) and dozens of others from both sides of the aisle.

Tucker told KARK 4 News the difference in cost should be covered by the federal government, then the state will take over anything left behind. He noted that seeing bipartisan support, with no downvotes from either side, shows the importance of a law like this.

“What it says is we need to feed kids in Arkansas,” Tucker said. “You can’t learn on an empty stomach.”

Stephanie Walker Hynes, director of Child Nutrition for the Little Rock School District, told KARK 4 News it has always been crucial for the district to provide meals to students, especially at a free or reduced cost, and this state program’s expansion will benefit thousands.

Hynes said more than 2,000 have already applied and qualified for these free meals. This is on top of the thousands of students whose families are able to pay for meals on their own.

“Making sure students are fed and offered breakfast and lunch every day makes a whole student,” she said. “Without food, students cannot think, but it also it helps reduce behavior problems.”

Hynes noted that these meals are not just something students need to continue with their school day but something students look forward to, and she said district staff would continue working to offer creative, nutritious meals to any student who comes through the food lines.

While the program is already benefitting LRSD, a spokesperson for Pulaski County Special School District said they were down approximately 500 applications compared to last year. PCSSD officials are urging any family in the district to fill out the paperwork to see if their child can qualify for the free meals.