New assemblymember Sarahana Shrestha joined re-elected state senator Michelle Hinchey in the Albany capitol building last week near the bottom of the red Scottish sandstone stairway overflowing with colleagues to bang the drum for a universal school-meals program.
During the pandemic, federal funding paid for student lunches in New York State. Those funds expired in June leaving 726,000 children in nearly 2000 schools across the state to bring their own lunches or to go hungry.
Shrestha says that 470,000 students in New York State live in households that make below a living wage and are more likely to face food insecurity. “I call on the governor to include $200 million in the state budget,” said Shrestha, “to provide healthy and free school meals for all.”
That school lunches aren’t currently free in New York State may come as some surprise to many who believe that tolerating food insecurity among children is disgraceful.
Promoted by a coalition of over 240 education and anti-hunger organizations, Healthy School Meals For All-NY is the campaign behind this push to provide free school lunches across the state. “Spending just $275 on a student, just a tenth of one percent of the state budget annually, would go a long way in making schools what they should be,” said Shrestha, “a place where children go to flourish.”
The requested funding in Assembly District 103, which includes most of Ulster County and portions of Dutchess, would provide meals to 7397 more students across 22 schools.
School breakfast and lunch programs do exist, according to the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance with three different categories of meal prices: full cost, reduced price, and free.
Parents previously filled out applications at the beginning of the school year to take part in the program administered by the USDA at the federal level. Children of families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level were eligible for reduced-price meals, and children of families at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level were eligible for school meals at no cost.
The temporary program authorized by Congress in March 2020 did away with income considerations through a waiver program and provided free breakfast and lunches across the board. A month prior to the program’s ending last June, Hinchey introduced a bill in the senate Education Committee which attempted to introduce universal school breakfasts and lunches as state law. It failed to gain traction.
The bill has been reintroduced for the new session into that same committee.