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Should schools offer free meals to all children?

  • / Updated:
  • Rebecca Swift 

Child advocacy groups are working to implement a statewide policy that would establish free school meals for every student in New York State.

“We’re working to get this done in the upcoming budget session,” said Jessica Pino-Godspeed with Hunger Solutions New York. “So we’re hoping to see this in the final budget for 2024.”

Pino-Goodspeed is the Manager of School Meal Policy and Engagement at Hunger Solutions. She works to expand access and participation in Federal Nutrition Assistance Programs, like SNAP and WIC. But families that are just above the poverty line and don’t qualify for those programs are struggling to pay for their children’s meals, she said.

“Income guidelines for a families for a family to receive meals at no cost in New York, for a family of four, is $51,400 a year,” she explained. “If you make just a dollar over that, you’re over the income limits to be eligible for free school meals. So what we’re seeing now is this really disheartening situation where schools are needing to deny applications. Those families are then accruing debt at schools. That’s a huge concern this year. Prior to the pandemic it was about $25 million dollars a year across the state.”    

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

She said this new policy builds on the existing Federal program.

“Luckily all this infrastructure already exists in schools where they’re operating school meal programs,” Pino-Goodspeed added. “What we’re asking for is an additional state supplement to make these programs whole. So that means they’re getting the same reimbursement regardless of what kid eats. They’re getting that cost back for each meal. Right now, under the current system, it depends on the status of that child, so it comes with a lot of administrative burden. They’re tracking kids by meal category, by their income. So this really simplifies the process of all kids can eat, and schools then get all that reimbursement for each child that eats.”

New York state is one of several that have active campaigns like this. Goodspeed explained California, Colorado and Maine have passed similar legislation.