State lawmakers will meet to call for free school lunches

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UPDATE: State lawmakers will meet at 11 a.m. on Monday to call on Gov. Kathy Hochul to support funding for free school lunches. The event will be hosted by State Senator Michelle Hinchey and Assembly Member Jessica Gonzales-Rojas.

They will be joined by students and anti-hunger advocates. They’re hoping the governor will include funding for free school lunches in next year’s state budget.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – When kids head back to school, families will be hit with a bill they may have forgotten about, school lunch. During the pandemic, districts across the nation, including New York were given a waiver to give free lunch to all students regardless of income. Those waivers expired in June.

Parents or caregivers will have to apply for free or reduced-price school meals, like they had to do before the pandemic. We spoke to parents at community events all weekend, and it was a mix of emotions when asked if it would affect them.

RELATED: Some middle-class families struggling with school lunch costs

“Not as much because my kids don’t participate in that, but I’m pretty sure that it’s affecting other families out here that don’t have food out here,” Kurtis Washington said, a Rochester parent.

“I’m not concerned, we’ll make a way, we’ll make a way,” Vialma Ramos-O’Neal said, another Rochester parent.

Parents and teachers we spoke to have prepped for expiration of the pandemic-era free school meals for students.

“Especially during COVID that was a nice benefit for families, one less thing to worry about,” Maggie Frasca said, an elementary school teacher in the area.

A week before the free meal waivers expired back in June, lawmakers approved, “Keep Kids Fed Act”.

However, the $3 Billion dollar extension requires most low-income families to apply for the program, and for kids who qualify for reduced price meals, they will have to start paying for breakfast and lunch. Parents say, the waiver shouldn’t have expired, since it’s been a long while since students had a “normal” school year. Families are still adjusting

“For them to renew it, it would be a blessing for those families,” Washington added.

According to New York State’s office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, while incomes vary, a chart shows that for example, a family of four, who have an income up to $34,450 dollars, would qualify for free school meals. If a family of four has an income up to $49,025 dollars, meals would be reduced. Other parents say it weighs on their minds, but they’ll make sure their kids hop on the school bus with a lunch pail.

“It’s definitely something that’s on our minds,” Frasca said.

“I’m concerned but at the same time, I know how to budget,” another Rochester parent,  Shamika Session said.  

Some states like California, Maine, and Vermont announced that they’ll continue offering universal free school meals, but most states will be charging for them.

Temporary and Disability Assistance website.