Every county in every state of the country has children who are food insecure. One in seven children in New York State experiences hunger. Even here on Long Island, one of the most affluent areas of the country, 68,000 children are food insecure.
Children who are hungry cannot concentrate and cannot learn effectively. When they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, they experience toxic stress which combined with a lack of nutrients can lead to physical and cognitive delays with long-term consequences.
While the federal government provides school meals to children in families who qualify, most people don’t realize that the children in a family of 4 making just over $51,000 do not qualify for free meals in school. In fact statewide an estimated 470,000 children are ineligible for free school meals, but live in households earning less than a living wage.
Many families who do qualify for meals in school do not apply due the associated social stigma or because of administrative or language barriers. The debt incurred when families can’t pay for children’s meals falls upon school districts, with unpaid school meal debt reaching an estimated $24.9 million statewide, which can be a significant burden upon school budgets.
Over 250 health, educational and anti-hunger organizations including the NYS American Academy of Pediatrics support healthy meals in school for all New York’s children. We must urge legislators and the Governor to include this initiative in the budget. It would provide access to a nutritious breakfast and lunch in school for all and provide half a child’s daily caloric needs . It will help improve academic achievement, behavior and attendance and will address racial disparities in nutrition, health and education.
We must do all we can to combat food insecurity, particularly for children whose bodies and brains are still developing. Supporting Meals for All in School is truly an investment in the future.
Eve Meltzer Krief MD, FAAP
Legislative Advocacy Co-Chair NY Chapter 2 American Academy of Pediatrics