ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — Friday was Hunger Action Day; people all over the world focused on closing the gap for those facing hunger. In New York, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle looked to fix this issue by expanding the Free School Meals Program.

During the pandemic, schools received free breakfast and lunch; school faculty and state lawmakers said this helped students who faced hunger which is why they fought to include it in this years budget. The bipartisan effort called for over $200 million to fund universal school meals, but this was a new ask. Our Capitol Correspondent, Amal Tlaige was told, there wasn’t enough revenue available and the state could only set aside $134 million for free school meals. Kyle Belokopitsky, Executive Director of the NYS PTA said even though its not fully funded, it’s still a tremendous help, “Cause it really is making a difference in our high need, low wealth school districts. In those school districts, school meals has been expanded to cover in many cases all of the school districts by what’s called the community eligibility provision. 

Belokopitsky says this coming session, the NYS PTA will push for funding to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. Current eligibility is based on the district, “If a school district qualifies for an enhanced breakfast and lunch program, they are aware of that, and most of them have implemented that last week, for the beginning of school,” said Belokopitsky.

Some say the expansion is a huge success, but Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America said the state could do much more, “Virtually every public school in New York already has some free school meal, the question is whether they’re universal, and the question is whether they’ve gotten rid of this complex application system and just given everyone the meal.”

He said one issue is that students would have to get up early in order to get free breakfast, making it public knowledge that they’re in need of a free meal “Opening themselves up to massive ridicule from other students, opening themselves up to great stigma and shame, that’s why we say the real solution is to serve breakfast in the first period classroom, where literally lower grade children get the meals delivered directly to their desk,” explained Berg.

You can call 1-866-3-HUNGRY to find out how you can get food benefits like SNAP or WIC and to find information about food pantries near you.