- New York is poised to expand access to free school meals with a $134 million investment to increase participation in the federal Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP, under a fiscal 2024 budget agreement announced last week by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.
- Specifically, the state funding would remove barriers for some schools to participate in CEP — a federal program that allows high-poverty schools to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students without requiring families to file out applications for free and reduced-price meals.
- The budget agreement, reached between Hochul and state legislative leaders, must now be passed by the state legislature. “For kids to be successful in school, they can't sit there with their stomachs growling — they're hungry. They need nutritious food to focus and thrive,” Hochul said in a speech Thursday.
While universal school meal advocates expressed enthusiasm that New York is expanding access to free meals, they noted that the move still falls short of providing free meals to all students in the state.
“Ensuring all schools that qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program are able to participate is an important step that will reduce food insecurity, especially in places with the greatest need, but it is not a substitute for universal free school meals,” the Healthy School Meals for All NY Kids Coalition said in a statement Monday night.
The $229 billion state budget is expected to pass both New York legislative houses. State legislators began passing those bills Monday afternoon, according to the Gothamist. The state’s fiscal 2024 year runs April 1, 2023, through March 31, 2024.
Even with the expansion of CEP, advocates said there are still hundreds of thousands of students in school districts that do not qualify for the program and would have to pay for meals. “The stigma and other barriers associated with accepting free meals will continue to hold many students back from participating in free school meal programs,” the Healthy School Meals for All NY Kids statement said.
Five states — California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and New Mexico — have passed universal school meal policies since the federal pandemic-era waiver providing universal school meals nationwide expired in June 2022. Similar efforts in other states have recently stalled in North Dakota, Montana and Virginia.
In September, President Joe Biden’s administration committed to establishing a pathway to universal school meals nationwide. Since then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed a rule to expand access to the Community Eligibility Provision nationwide by lowering the minimum threshold of the “Identified Student Percentage” from 40% to 25% for a school or district to qualify. That percentage is the total student enrollment divided by the number of students eligible for free meals.