Local Leaders Highlight State Funding for Free School Meals on Long Island

Local leaders call on Long Island schools to opt-in to free school meals program

View full press conference HERE

Valley Stream, NY Today, Assemblymember Michaelle C. Solages was joined by Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas (D,WFP-Queens), New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), Island Harvest, Community Food Advocates, PTAs, and local residents to highlight New York State’s bold stand to eradicate student hunger in New York State.

The current free or reduced meal program, while essential, leaves some families in a difficult position. Many hardworking parents struggle to make ends meet, yet they don't qualify for assistance under the existing system. This disparity prompted leaders such as Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas to champion a major budget initiative, making free school meals accessible to most school districts across the state.

Thanks to the unwavering efforts of the legislature, including members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus this year saw a significant victory as they successfully expanded free school meals to numerous school districts. However, to ensure that all students benefit from this essential program, qualifying school districts must opt-in to the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). The CEP guarantees that all meals are provided free of charge, regardless of a student's family income level. If all schools in Nassau County opt-in to the program, an additional 10,000 students would receive free school meals.

"While we celebrate the progress made in securing funding for this vital initiative, we recognize that there is still much work to be done," New York State Assemblymember Michaelle C. Solages said. "New York State is one of the most diverse places in the world, and we must strive for an inclusive approach that meets the unique cultural needs of our students. As we move forward, we will work tirelessly to ensure culturally sensitive options, such as halaal meals, are incorporated wherever needed."

“Every student should be able to access healthy breakfast and lunch at school for free. After securing $135 million in funding to expand free breakfast and lunch for school children in New York in this year’s state budget, I’m so thrilled to stand here today with Assemblywoman Michaelle C. Solages, New York State United Teachers, advocates, local PTA leadership and parents, and Valley Stream Union Free Schools 30 Superintendent Dr. Garcia-France to celebrate this incredible achievement. As the new state funding for free school meals rolls out this year, more children will be lifted out of food insecurity, which will result in incredible health, academic, and economic benefits. Families will also save hundreds of dollars in grocery spending. I encourage all school districts on Long Island that have yet to opt into the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program to do so by the August 31st deadline so we start the school year feeding thousands of more students across our state,” said New York State Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, prime sponsor of the Universal School Meals legislation in the Assembly.

“We know that access to regular meals is essential to create healthy classrooms where both students and educators can thrive. The additional funding through this year’s state budget will significantly expand the number of children who can learn unfettered by hunger, and we will continue to fight for that opportunity for every student in New York.” said Melinda Person, NYSUT President.

“Hunger exists in every community on Long Island. Anything short of true universal school meals for children misses the opportunity to ensure positive health, educational and life outcomes for the youngest residents in our region. Investing in the present and future well-being of children always yields a high return on investment and should be the highest priority of every leader.” said Rebecca Sanin, CEO, Health and Welfare Council of Long Island.

“Members of Assembly Michaelle Solages and Jessica González-Rojas are champions in the fight against food insecurity on Long Island and across New York State,” said Randi Shubin Dresner, President and CEO of Island Harvest Food Bank. “Through their efforts, New York State made an historic investment of more than $130 million to expand our children’s access to healthy breakfast and lunch meals at school and they fought for an additional $22 million in the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP). However, we know that this investment simply is not enough. Food insecurity today is worse than it was before the pandemic. We join with our partners across New York State to call for universal free school meals to be included in next year’s budget; the proper education of our children depends on it.” said Gregory A. May, Government Relations Liaison, Island Harvest.

“Free school meals are now available to more students than ever in New York, thanks to the State funding an expansion and leveraging federal funding. However, many students are left behind with this expansion. More than half of schools on Long Island will not be eligible to offer free school meals to all of their students this school year. Many other suburban and rural districts will also not be eligible. We must close the gap, and ensure all students have access to healthy school meals with a permanent, statewide policy.” said Liz Accles, Executive Director of Community Food Advocates, co-lead of the Healthy School Meals for All NY Kids coalition

“We applaud the expansion of school meals included in this year’s state budget. It is a critical step in the right direction and will ensure more children in our state have access to a healthy school breakfast and lunch. Still, a partial expansion does not reach all students in need. In schools that are unable to leverage existing federal and state options, students will continue to face stigma and undue administrative burdens that inhibit access to the meals they need to learn and thrive. New York can and must close the gap with a statewide Healthy School Meals for All policy.” said Andrés Vives, Executive Director of Hunger Solutions New York, a statewide anti-hunger organization, co-lead of the Healthy School Meals for All NY Kids coalition

The progress made in advancing food justice in New York State is a testament to the power of collective action. Assemblywoman Solages emphasizes that this is only the beginning of the journey towards a truly universal free school meals program. The commitment to ensuring every child has access to nutritious meals remains at the forefront of the Assembly Majority’s legislative agenda.