NYS lawmakers push for free meals at schools to be included in state budget

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ALBANY, N.Y. — New York State lawmakers are pushing the governor to fund free breakfast and lunches for all schools in the 2023 state budget.

Many local district administrators are in favor of free meals for all students. Low-income students already qualify for free lunch. Many local food service directors say students whose parents make just above that line are going without meals because their families simply can’t afford lunch money day after day.

Back in June, the federal waivers that provided free school meals for all students expired. As a result, more than 726,000 students in New York lost access to free meals at school and families’ school meal debt has skyrocketed in some districts.

Back in October, we took you to Marcus Whitman schools, where a number of families who didn’t qualify for the free lunch program were having trouble making ends meet with the increasing cost of food. Both the Senate and Assembly included $280 million to restore free school meals for all students in their one-house budget bills. Now it’s up to Gov. Hochul to decide if lunches are fully funded in the new state budget.

“This upfront money will actually save us money in the long run, that’s important but what’s more important is making sure that every student, every child in NYS has breakfast and lunch in schools,” said NYS Senator Michelle Hinchey of the Hudson Valley area. “Think about it. Anytime any of us is trying to do anything and we’re hungry, even as adults. It’s challenging.”

More than 30 elementary and middle school students delivered empty lunch trays to the governor’s office after that rally in Albany on Tuesday hoping to urge her to sign off on this.

Right now, there are about 470,000 families in new york who don’t qualify for free school meals but live in households that earn below a living wage.

California, Colorado, and Maine have permanent free school meal programs. Last week, Minnesota joined the list. The state budget must be approved by April 1.