New YORK STATE Getting best value in free-meal effort

It may be next year before legislation to require New York schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to their students is considered in the state Legislature.

Between now and then, we hope the sponsors of A.9518/S.9144, Sen. Michele Hinchey, D-Kingston, and Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, D-East Elmhurst, make one minor change by focusing the program on those who truly need it.

Hinchey and Gonzalez-Rojas are right when they note far too many families throughout New York state don’t have enough to eat, and we know the free food programs that sprang up during the COVID-19 pandemic helped a lot of children. But their legislation, as proposed, would require all schools to opt into the Community Eligibility Programs offered by the federal government with the state paying the difference between federal aid through the U.S. Agriculture Department and the cost to provide food for all students. The legislation doesn’t note the potential cost to the state, but it’s not going to be cheap.

Heritage Foundation research has shown the more middle- and upper-income students have received free meals since lawmakers enacted the Community Eligibility Program — which is helping drive up the cost to help those who really need it or even expand the program to keep the take-home breakfasts that some children have received during the pandemic and which we’re sure are very helpful to many families.

Hinchey and Gonzalez-Rojas have a worthy goal to help children whose families need help have access to two meals during the school day. Offering free lunches to those who need it in more schools is a good goal. But the program must be focused on those who need help.


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