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By Holly Woodbury, B.A., Center for Health Policy & Programs Intern
The push toward improved healthy food access for children scored another victory earlier this summer. New York City’s new budget allows for universal free lunches for public school children. The City has already made strides for healthy food access for children, like NYC’s Free Summer Meals and Free Breakfast Program at schools, but this recent change in spending will be a gamechanger for lunchtime. Currently, New York’s free and reduced-price lunch program is structured as follows:
- Free lunch for students who come from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level
- Reduced price lunch for students who come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the poverty level
- Full price lunch for students who come from families with incomes above 185 percent of the poverty level
Children having access to nutritious food throughout the school day is crucial to their overall health and development, but it is even more imperative for their learning. It’s been proven that when children have healthy meals at school, they are more attentive, more energetic, and retain their lessons better.
While free and reduced-price food is vital for many kids, there is the fear of being teased for paying a reduced price. Sometimes, kids face ostracization if their family cannot pay the full price, which may lead to their food being thrown out or kids not eating at all. In addition, some schools shame their students and throw their food away if the fee is not paid on time. Not only does teasing lead to a negative school environment, but throwing uneaten food away contributes to food waste. The way to quell this problem is to implement a universal free school lunch program, which would make lunch available for over one million school children in New York City. Before, it was just a popular idea.
Now it’s been made possible.
President and CEO of the New York State Health Foundation, David Sandman, PhD, announced on Wednesday, June 7th that, thanks to the Foundation, New York City’s budget for 2017-18 has expanded to give all 1.1 million public school children have access to free lunches, along with the already established free breakfast. Sandman said that the expanded budget means “students will have the food they need to be healthy, to learn, and to play.” Numerically, this new budget means that 90 percent of public schools will offer free lunches. In addition to the expanded lunch program, the budget will also help in improving food quality in schools, and aid in program promotion.
Universal free school lunch means that no child will have to face teasing or alienation over the need to have a free lunch. Moreover, this will ensure that no child will be teased. In addition, this new budget expansion will especially help children from low-income communities, which are often disproportionally affected by lack of healthy food access. The implementation of universal free lunch will not only be beneficial for children and help them succeed in class, but will also be a great step for food justice.
New York State’s budget expansion for New York City aligns with the Academy’s work to prevent chronic diseases and promote health equity. The Academy and Designing a Strong and Healthy New York (DASH-NY) applaud New York State’s efforts in building a healthier and more equitable New York City.