PBefore the pandemic, 59% of New York state schools offered free meals to students who were eligible for family income. However, during the pandemic, all public school students, regardless of income, have been able to participate in the free meal program.
Sometimes good things come to an end. The federally funded COVID-19 pandemic free breakfast and lunch for all public school students expired at the end of the school year last June. According to the New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) website, current income eligibility in New York is as follows:
• Free lunch – income up to 130% of poverty ($34,450 for a family of 4 annually)
• Reduced Lunch – income up to 185% of poverty ($49,025 for a family of 4 annually)
• Full price (paid by family) – income above 185% of poverty ($49,025 for a family of 4 annually)
Over 700,000 New York students (about half of Hawaii’s population) lost access to the free meals when the pandemic-inspired program ended. The Niagara Falls School District is a “Community Ready” district, meaning that each school has at least 40% or more students living within the poverty line. The law change has not had a negative impact on the county.
Gov. Kathy Hochul didn’t include the meal program in her budget — 75% of New York City students qualify and have access to free school meals even without the federal program. However, this still leaves many students and their families on the fence. Depending on where you live, an income of $50,000 is barely enough to sustain a family of four.
Member of Parliament Jessica González-Rojas and Senator Michelle Hinchey each introduced a bill to create a more permanent solution for school-age New Yorkers. The campaign is called Healthy School Meals for All NY Kids. The primary goal is to provide an income-based healthy meal program to all NYS students.
Besides poverty, there is another reason that should motivate legislators to provide free and healthy meals to all students.
I know that students are better able to focus on schoolwork when they are not hungry. It’s hard to concentrate on an empty stomach.
A Google search turned up some data on food insecurity and malnutrition. A 2018 New York State School Breakfast Report states that 1 in 5 NYS students is “food insecure.” Simply put, they don’t have access to adequate nutrition to support a healthy and active lifestyle.
A question on “What is the Diabetes Rate Among K-12 Public School Students in New York State?” turned up a wealth of articles, facts, figures, and resources about childhood obesity and childhood diabetes. The focus on low-income students and families overlooks a larger problem that also affects so many students, regardless of income: the impact of diabetes on youth.
Type 2 diabetes is preventable, yet the number of teenagers under the age of 20 living with type 2 diabetes increased by 95% between 2001 and 2017, according to a study by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).
A NYS Department of Health report (revised 2012) entitled “Children with Diabetes: A Guide for Families and Schools” expresses some startling probabilities about the life risk of US children born in 2000 and later:
• 1 in 3 men will develop diabetes
• 2 out of 5 women develop diabetes
• 1 in 2 Hispanic women will develop diabetes
They found the largest increases in type 2 diabetes among Black, Hispanic, and Native American youth, but just like adults, obesity and poor diet contribute.
It is clear that more students are increasingly at risk of developing diabetes complications at an earlier age. Prevention is less expensive than treating chronic conditions. The impact of diabetes on children is worrying as it has the potential to impact our future workforce. The cost to today’s taxpayers could improve the cost of tomorrow’s health insurance. Healthier children should grow into healthy adults who can be more productive and lead healthier lives.
It has been almost 10 years since former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban restaurants from selling sugary sodas, juices and other high-calorie beverages 16 ounces and up. He was onto something.
Gov. Hochul should work with lawmakers to develop a plan for free healthy meals for all public school students. Your life depends on it.