The Healthy School Meals For All NY Kids Coalition, alongside State Senator Michelle Hinchey, is advocating for NYS to expand the existing Healthy School Meals program to include every school in the state that operates the National School Breakfast and Lunch programs. This program serves free breakfast and lunch to every student, regardless of income, to ensure no child’s education is interrupted because of hunger. The Coalition would also like to partner with NYS farms to provide these meals in order to ensure nutritional quality and boost the state’s agriculture economy.
Currently, the program serves 1,200 schools and more than 347,000 children. These numbers do not include the many schools across the state that already had free school meal programs prior to the program expanding for the 2023-2024 school year. There are, however, 650 schools and more than 321,000 children still not receiving free meals. Without equal access to free school meals, children whose families struggle despite not qualifying for free school meals are being left behind. Children whose circumstances prevent them from accessing free meals, whether because of where they live, administrative barriers, or stigma, are experiencing interrupted learning as a result of their hunger.
It has been proven time and time again that universal free school meals are game-changers for children and their families. Students are better able to pay attention and participate in class when they are fed. Cohen, et. al. (2021) details a systematic review of the changes in the educational experience for students once they start to receive free school meals. The researchers found that “universal free school meals were associated with increases in participation and improved diet quality and food security.” The review also found that free school meals can help the economic situation for the students’ families. Specifically in New York, families’ food bills were reduced by roughly $150 per week.
Hunger Solutions New York’s overview of child nutrition programs in NYS describes the state of food insecurity and hunger for children. In the 2022-2023 school year, more than 726,000 children lost access to free school meals as a result of expired federal waivers, which prompted the state legislature to allocate $134.6 million to free meals in schools that participated in the federal Community Eligibility Program (CEP) in the 2024 fiscal year budget. Senator Hinchey and the Healthy School Meals for All Coalition are now fighting for this program to be expanded to all schools in the state to ensure economic equity and to “fully eliminate stigma, school meal debt, and barriers to access.” On January 25, 2024, the senator participated in a rally at the State Capitol to call for full funding of the Healthy School Meals Program, organized by the coalition. Many advocacy organization partners also spoke at the event, as did Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas.
Edited on 2/7 01:20pm for clarity.