Free school meals for all NY schoolchildren should be ‘fully funded’ by Gov. Hochul, advocates say
Updated March 24, 2023
By Olivia Winslow
Read on Newsday
Ensuring schoolchildren don’t go hungry, and eliminating the stigma some say is associated with free or reduced school meals, brought together more than a dozen Democratic and Republican state legislators, school officials and advocates Friday who called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to “fully fund” a free school meals program for all students.
“I’m here today to call upon the governor to fully fund Healthy School Meals in the 2024 budget,” said Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, an umbrella group representing about 300 nonprofits. She and others noted the governor’s proposed budget did not include funding for the school meals program. However, both the Senate and Assembly have put funding for the program in their proposed budget bills.
“During the worst days of the pandemic, universal free meals were something families could count on. And since that program expired [last June], 243,000 children on Long Island lost their access to free school meals,” Sanin said during an event in the cafeteria at Jefferson Primary School in Huntington to promote funding the free meals program.
In a statement to Newsday, the governor’s spokesperson did not directly address whether Hochul would support including the $280 million that legislators from both chambers have put in their “one-house budget bills” for the school meals program. The statement said: “Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget makes transformative investments to make New York more affordable, more livable and safer, and she looks forward to working with the legislature on a final budget that meets the needs of all New Yorkers.”
Bob Vecchio, executive director of the Nassau Suffolk School Boards Association, noted the widespread need for food aid. “This issue is not just about meals in this building, it’s how it impacts the community as a whole.”
Jim Polansky, superintendent of Huntington schools, said going from the federally funded universal free school meal program during the pandemic back to “standard practice” had caused an increase in student meal debt. “Some families are struggling more than they were before the pandemic …”
State Sen. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) and State Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) noted the bipartisan support for the measure and offered personal testimonies.
“This is personal for me,” said Thomas. “When I immigrated to this country with my family back in 1995, I remember going to school and not having money to pay for school lunch. … there were days where I sat there at the lunch table … and looking at what my friends were eating and not having anything. So this is the right thing to do.”
Murray agreed. “I was raised by a single mom working three jobs. We were on food stamps, welfare. And I was in the free and reduced breakfast and lunch program. And let me tell you, there was a stigma. They would point. They would whisper. … And that’s the stigma that goes with it. We have to erase that. We have to make sure every child, every child that is hungry is fed. That’s our job. That’s our duty.”
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