Albany, N.Y. April 18, 2023 – Legislators, advocates, and members of the Healthy School Meals for All NY Kids coalition gathered in Albany today to keep pressure on Governor Kathy Hochul amid ongoing budget negotiations. With $280 million in funding for universal free school meals included in both the Senate and Assembly budget proposals, it is now up to the Governor to lead on this critical anti-hunger policy.
“One of the most important investments we will ever make as a state is fighting child hunger by permanently funding free universal school meals,” Senator Michelle Hinchey said. “Guaranteeing every New York student two meals each school day will keep our kids healthy and help them learn, all while saving families money each month and providing savings to our state in long-term healthcare costs. Hungry students can’t wait, and we need to prioritize universal school meals as we finalize this year’s budget.”
“The support for funding universal school meals in New York has only grown in these weeks of budget negotiations. I’m proud that my legislation has also gained the backing of the New York Farm Bureau. With Minnesota and New Mexico funding school meals it is time that Governor Hochul finally back this proposal. Funding healthy school meals for all of our students would make New York more livable and affordable for our families while also addressing childhood poverty and food insecurity. I look forward to working with our leadership to see this proposal over the finish line because no child should ever go to bed hungry in our state,” said Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas.
Senator John W. Mannion said, “As a teacher for nearly three decades I know how important it is for schools to provide meals for all students, regardless of ability to pay. When kids don’t have enough to eat it impacts their ability to learn and succeed at school and can affect physical and social development. Our ability to provide this service for New Yorkers is in jeopardy and we must continue to fund free school meals in the state budget.”
“Everyone agrees that there are certain resources our children need to be prepared for educational success. What a lot of people don’t consider is that a full stomach is as important to a child’s education as a full backpack,” said Senator Sean M. Ryan. “Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you: A hungry student is a distracted student. Guaranteeing every child two healthy meals each school day will pay dividends for New York’s families and improve educational outcomes for thousands of kids across the state.”
“I represent my hometown of Rochester, a city where nearly half of its children live in poverty. Widespread food insecurity is an unfortunate symptom of cycles of poverty. We cannot expect our children to thrive if we are not going to provide them with the necessary energy to learn and grow. I fully support Healthy School Meals for All as a critical investment in the physical, mental, and academic health of the next generation of New Yorkers in Rochester and across our state,” said Senator Jeremy Cooney.
“As an educator and advocate for our children, I recognize the need to provide free and nutritious meals for our students,” said Senator Monica R. Martinez. “Having seen firsthand the many obstacles students encounter on a daily basis, I firmly believe food insecurity should never be a burden or worry for them, especially during the school day. I am proud to have worked with my colleagues in the Senate to fully fund a statewide Healthy School Meals for All program in our One-House budget.”
Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. said, “The advantages of a healthy meal extend far beyond the physical benefits. Universal school meals provide academic and economic benefits to students, as well as their families. Studies have shown that students experiencing hunger have trouble focusing, are at greater risk for physical and mental health problems, and have lower attendance rates than their classmates. We need to do our part to ensure no child goes to school or bed hungry each day.”
For nearly two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, federal funding ensured students universal access to free school meals. This ended in June 2022. As a result, more than 726,000 students across New York lost access to free meals and school meal debt skyrocketed.
States across the country – including California, Colorado, Nevada, Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont – have already implemented Healthy School Meals for All. Most recently, Minnesota passed legislation providing universal free school meals for all students.
Nearly 90 percent of New Yorkers support the policy and it has broad bipartisan support in the legislature. In just the last month, advocates have come together across New York State, from Buffalo to Long Island, in support of Healthy School Meals for All.
“We can’t let students and families slip through the cracks during this year’s budget negotiations,” said Andrés Vives, Executive Director of Hunger Solutions New York. “Healthy School Meals for All is a vital anti-hunger policy that ensures all students have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, and provides a much-needed lifeline for families struggling to make ends meet. New York’s legislature is standing strong and has made feeding all our kids a priority. Now, we urge Governor Hochul to fully fund this critical policy in this year’s State budget.”
“Current means-tested school meal programs leave too many students behind. Our experience in New York City proves that providing Healthy School Meals for All greatly reduces childhood hunger and supports struggling families,” said Liz Accles, Executive Director of Community Food Advocates. “States across the country and our neighbors in the northeast have stepped up after the federal government pulled back funding for school meals. Our leaders in Albany must keep students and families front and center as they finalize this year’s budget. We call on Governor Hochul to fully fund Healthy School Meals for All.”
Funding universal free school meals in New York would ensure all students are well-nourished, no matter where they live. Nearly 2,000 additional schools, mostly suburban and small rural schools with high poverty rates, would be able to provide universal free school meals for all students.
One in seven children in New York experience hunger. Students experiencing hunger struggle to pay attention, have lower attendance, and are more likely to experience mental and physical health problems. These challenges affect all students and they disproportionately impact Black and Latinx children.
The current means-tested school meal programs leave many behind, including families who do not qualify for free school meals but are struggling to make ends meet, students who qualify but do not participate due to stigma and administrative barriers, and students in suburban and rural schools that often cannot leverage the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) to provide free meals for all.
Ensuring all students are well-fed is proven to boost test scores and improve behavioral health while reducing racial health disparities and academic achievement gaps. A Syracuse University study of the policy’s impact on learning outcomes found that providing free meals to kids resulted in the same improvement in skills as six to ten additional weeks of instruction.
The benefits also extend beyond the classroom. Households whose children attend schools with universal free school meals are three times less likely to experience food insecurity.
Providing free school meals to all students is especially important because it eliminates administrative burdens and social stigmas that hold students back from participating in existing programs.
“The Healthy Schools Meals for All program is a true win-win for our school children and farm families. Funding Healthy School Meals for All would allow more schools to partner with farms to provide fresh, local food to students. This would financially support New York’s farmers as well as rural and suburban communities where poverty is prevalent but less concentrated than in urban school districts. New York Farm Bureau is hopeful that this positive effort will be fully funded in the New York State Budget,” said Renée St. Jacques, Senior Director of Public Policy for New York Farm Bureau.
“Providing universal school meals for all students presents a real opportunity to make meals a more cohesive part of the school day, in which everyone participates. Since the start of the school year, we have seen the impact that mounting meal debt and food insecurity has on students and schools around the state,” said Brian S. Cechnicki, Executive Director, Association of School Business Officials of New York (ASBO NY). “New York State should join our colleagues in California, Maine, and Colorado, and be amongst the first in the nation to adopt this important policy that benefits students, schools, and families.”
Feeding NY State Executive Director Dan Egan said, “Long ago, Governor Franklin Roosevelt said that the trick to leadership in a democracy was to find a parade and run to the head of it. Governor Hochul – here is your parade. Your place at the head of it is here for you. Please join us in ensuring every student in New York has access to healthy meals every day.”
“Hunger is a serious issue in every community across our state,” said Megan Bates, New York School Nutrition Association member and Senior School Lunch Director at Niskayuna Central School District. “No child should be going hungry, and no parent should have to go without to ensure that their child can eat each and every day. Our association is dedicated to ensuring that each and every student has access to a warm nutritious meal each and every day.”
Learn more about the Healthy School Meals for All campaign and opportunities to support free school meals for all New York students at https://schoolmealsforallny.org/.