Albany must fund universal school meal program

Sean St. James

Nearly a year after federal aid for universal free school meals ended, New York’s mountain of school meal debt is growing.

Lawmakers in Albany are currently negotiating for a universal school meal program to be included in the state budget. So far, this proposal has received bipartisan support. But it is imperative to the well-being of New York schoolchildren that it gets approved. 

Advocacy organizations Health School Meals for All and Hunger Solutions New York surveyed 126 schools and found that 86.7% of all districts reported a primary cause of meal debt stemming from families that are unable to pay.

This crisis is a nightmarish reality for students with low-income backgrounds that must now make a daily choice between going hungry or financially burdening their parents.

No kid deserves to go hungry. The government’s complicity in this situation is both immoral and detrimental to the education of hundreds of thousands of students unable to foot their lunch bills.

Nowadays, a family of four must earn about $36,000 a year or less to qualify for free lunch. This is $10,000 above New York’s poverty line, meaning many families that are struggling financially are being left behind.

The application process can also be confusing for families that don’t speak English as their first language. This has probably resulted in a huge gap between the number of students who are currently receiving free school lunches and those that should be. 

This is adding unnecessary stress to the lives of low-income families that are likely already struggling with rising living costs, job insecurity and financial fallout from the pandemic. 

Moreover, accessible meals have proved beneficial to academic performance and scholastic attendance. 

According to No Kid Hungry campaign, “students who eat school breakfast have been shown to achieve 17.5% higher scores on standardized math tests and attend 1.5 more days of school per year.” 

“Food insecurity is an issue that all of our families across the state face, and if school districts can really help them, we need to help them,” New York State PTA Executive Director Kyle Belokopitsky told Spectrum News

Though funding for a universal school meal program has received bipartisan support, Albany should have passed this resolution as soon as the last round of funding dried up. 

The universal meal program will be effective because it was effective in the past. The only thing standing in the way is the slow pace of bureaucratic action. 

If the people living under the government feel that funding is being improperly allocated, action can and must be taken. 

American citizens have the right to petition the government and more and more people must fight for the 800,000 schoolchildren that will be directly affected by Albany’s decision.