Advocates Call for Free School Meals in NY’s 2024 Budget
Elected officials, advocates, and parents gathered on Friday to call on Gov. Kathy Hochul to include free school meals in the upcoming state budget for fiscal year 2024.
The $280 million Healthy School Meals for All program would provide universal free school meals to all students, whose school lunch debt has increased significantly since a federal Covid-19 program that covered meal fees ended in June 2022.
“Long Island parents, schools, and communities are fiercely committed to advancing healthy school meals for all children in New York State,” said Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of Health & Welfare Council of Long Island. “In a time in which hunger is on the rise and families face many post-pandemic challenges, ensuring that our youngest New Yorkers are provided with nutritious meals not only impacts health, educational, and psychological outcomes for children, it also reduces stress and promotes healthy families, a key priority for New York State.”
Nearly 243,000 students in Nassau and Suffolk counties have lost access to free meals, according to the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, which was joined by the Nassau-Suffolk School Board Association and the Healthy School Meals for All Kids Coalition at Friday’s news conference at Jefferson Primary School in Huntington Station.
The policy has bipartisan support in the New York legislature and nearly 90% of New Yorkers support it, according to the organizations.
“With rising food costs straining families that struggle to make ends meet, I believe we have a responsibility to combat food insecurity at school each day with healthy meals at no cost,” said State Sen. Kevin Thomas. “I’m proud that our one-house budget is prioritizing the health and safety of our students with unprecedented funding allocated for universal free school meals. No child should ever go hungry at school simply because they didn’t qualify or felt ashamed to ask for assistance.”
The state budget is due April 1.
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