Gillibrand visits Ithaca pushing for free student meals to become permanent

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Trays of food at a school cafeteria. (KOIN)

(NEWS10/WETM) — The USDA has been providing free school meals through COVID-19 waivers, and will continue to do so through the 2021-2022 school year. Elected officials caution that food insecurity will stick around longer than that.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand traveled across the state on Monday, including to Ithaca, pushing for broader assistance that goes beyond the pandemic through the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021.

“I’m proud to support the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021, which would permanently provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack to all children, regardless of their income,” Gillibrand said, “and eliminate the burden that school debt has placed on schools and on families.”

The bicameral legislation would permanently implement a Universal School Meals program to provide school meals for all students, including free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack to all school children regardless of their socioeconomic background. 

Senator Gillibrand was joined on Monday by Ithaca City School District Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown and New York State Assemblymember Dr. Anna Kelles.

Our school district has strived to provide students and staff with locally sourced healthy school meals. This bill allows for us to scale and make sustainable our efforts,” said Ithaca City School District Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown.

“When food insecurity was magnified for families across New York during the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA’s free school lunch program provided critical relief. Senator Gillibrand’s Universal School Meals Program Act will improve the lives of children here in the 125th district of New York by making this critical relief permanent, ensuring that all children have access to healthy and free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack regardless of their socio-economic level,” said New York State Assemblymember Dr. Anna Kelles. “The bill reimburses school districts for meal debt and increases the reimbursement rate for school meals. Additionally, the bill supports local agriculture by providing incentives for sourcing food locally. Ending hunger in schools is a key step towards equity and allows all children to focus their energy where it should be, on their education.”  

According to Feeding America, 22 million kids rely on the National School Lunch Program for free and reduced-price meals

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