ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — During the pandemic, federal funding provided students in high poverty schools with free school meals: breakfast and lunch. That funding has since ended, which is why advocates are asking Governor Hochul to include it in the state budget.

“Governor Hochul, from one mother to another, let’s do this,” said Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas who is sponsoring a bill that would provide all schools with breakfast and lunch at no cost to the student. “726,000 students lost access to free school meals when the federal waiver expired in September,” she said.

Students delivered empty food trays to the Governor’s hall showing support and need for the bill. The organization, Feeding America says one in seven children face hunger here in New York. Student Madison Burton from Union Endicott High School shared her personal story, “Once there was a little girl embarrassed to be in that line, when her friends were already seated with their lunches from home. Once there was a little girl who felt alone sitting with her friends who judged what was on her plate. It made her want to skip lunch all together.”

Yuliano Camareno, a former student at Mohonasen Senior High School explained the difference he saw in students when New York had that federal funding. “You saw students actually had food, they were happy, interacting, you didn’t see any bullying or stigmatization of having a free meal because no one knew about it, because it was already provided and covered for by the government.

When Capitol Correspondent Amal Tlaige reached out to the Governor’s office they said that funding was solely a federal program and they’re working closely with federal counterparts to ensure that the universal meal program is reinstated. The initial projection for free school meals was $200 million, but both one house budgets have allocated $280 million based on projections made by the state education department.