Op-Ed: Governor Must Fund Universal Meals for All in School

Although New York is one of wealthiest states in our nation, many  families struggle to put food on the table.  Long Island is no exception, with 90,000 school-aged children living at or below the poverty threshold and many living just above it.

Last year in  landmark legislation, the governor funded meals for children in schools . Although both the NYS Assembly and Senate had supported universal meals for all children in school, the compromise in the budget ultimately provided meals for children only in high poverty school districts.

While this did provide meals in schools for over 347,000 students across the state, more than 320,000 students were left behind. It’s important to note that nearly half of these students live on Long Island where ironically the cost of living is one the highest in the country, let alone the State.

Although these students can apply for federally funded meals, many students from struggling families do not qualify for this aid. A family of four can access this federal aid only if the family earns less than $56,000. Anyone who lives on Long Island knows that living on an income just above that threshold is extremely challenging where it’s estimated that a family of four needs a budget of at least $76,000 to meet basic needs.

New York must join the eight states that have already implemented universal meals for all children in school including Massachusetts, Vermont, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Michigan and New Mexico.  Once again our State Senate and Assembly support the funding and the Governor should include the initiative in the budget. Healthy meals for all in schools are proven to support students’ mental and physical health, improve academic outcomes and save struggling families an estimated $150 per child per month in grocery costs. We need to level the playing field for all our children and give them all the tools they need  to thrive. No child in NYS should be hungry in our schools.

Eve Meltzer Krief, MD
Legislative Advocacy Co Chair
Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics

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