Educators, lawmakers push Hochul on free school meals for all students
School meals should be free to all New York students regardless of their family's income, lawmakers, educators and advocates insist.
At a Friday event in Ossining, they called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to support $280 million for the measure in the state budget, which is due April 1. Both the state Senate and Assembly included the money in their budget proposals.
"In Ossining we see every day the needs of our families and children as we have many that are food insecure and hungry," said Rorie Caparelli, an officer for the Ossining PTA and a parent of two kids in the district.
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A federal meal program that subsidized school lunches for all students for two years over the pandemic ended in June, leaving school districts to subsidize free meals for all or start charging students who didn't qualify again.
The end of the federal program left 726,000 students across the state without access to free meals, 146,500 of whom were in the Hudson Valley, according to the New York State PTA.
"This is about our kids doing well in school...where every child gets fed breakfast and lunch no matter where they live, no matter their zip code, no matter their income," said state Sen. Shelley Mayer, chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Many needy families don't qualify
When the federal program expired, families with incomes just over the cutoff had to start paying for their kids' lunches again, said Caitlin Lazarski, president of New York School Nutrition Association. Lazarski noted a family of four would have to make less than $36,075 to qualify for free meals.
Lazarski and several others who spoke at the Claremont School in Ossining noted providing free meals to all students would also help get rid of the stigma associated with getting free or reduced lunch.
Caparelli told The Journal News/lohud that free meals are also a great way for students to get healthy food without having to leave campus.
Andrés Vives, executive director of Hunger Solutions New York, pointed to the rise in grocery prices and debt for school meals that some families have incurred since the program ended.
"This loss has hit families hard," he said.
In Irvington, Superintendent Kristopher Harrison said 3% of the district's students qualified for free and reduced lunch when he became superintendent in 2012. Now 10% of Irvington students qualify.
"We see hunger in every community across the state of New York," Harrison said. "Hunger, food insecurity knows no boundaries."
Contact Diana Dombrowski at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @domdomdiana
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Educators, lawmakers push Gov. Hochul for free school meals for all