Public Advocate Letitia James Joined By Food Advocates To Announce Plan To Provide Free Lunch To All Public School Students

(New York, NY)— Today at 1:00PM, Public Advocate Letitia James will be joined by food advocates on the 

steps of City Hall to announce a proposal that would provide universal free lunch for all New York City public 

school students. Over 75% of city public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch. 

That’s an estimated 780,000 students. 

 

However, because of the poverty stigma associated with school lunch— and understandable fears of 

undocumented families filling out the significant required paperwork to qualify— an estimated 250,000 

income eligible city students do not participate in the school lunch program. Overall, 81% of elementary 

school students eat school lunch, but that number drops to 61% by middle school, and 38% in high school. 

 

This proposal would maximize federal incentives programs, while minimizing arduous paperwork to make free 

lunch accessible to all students. 

 

“Every child should be guaranteed access to healthy food during the school day. We know that when children 

are hungry, they are less likely to be attentive in class. I have spoken with the administration regarding the need 

to explore resources that can pay for universal free lunch. Most significantly, we need to unlink school food to 

family income to make this program accessible to children citywide,” said New York City Public Advocate 

Letitia James. 

 

“All children deserve a healthy meal at lunch. We should be able to eliminate the burden on families without the 

risk of jeopardizing federal funding. We are grateful to Public Advocate James and our many food advocates for 

supporting us in this effort to persuade Washington to decouple lunch from Title one funding. Without 

decoupling, many of our schools would be unfairly penalized by the new federal program,” said Department of 

Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña. 

 

“Universal free school lunch is a big idea with a tiny cost. Providing free and healthy school meals to all NYC 

public school students is a cost-effective and efficient way to address student hunger, improve children's health, 

and boost educational outcomes. This is a win-win for New York's kids,” said New York State Senator Liz 

Krueger, 28th

 District. 

 

“We don't ask families to pay for education, transportation, or textbooks, and we shouldn't ask them to pay for 

lunch," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "As the child of a single mother, I was a reduced school voucher 

recipient— and no child should be forced to choose between hunger and shame.” 

 

“As a former public school teacher, I understand the importance of having every student properly nourished,” 

said Council Member Daniel Dromm. “Providing both free lunches and access to breakfast during the school 

day, regardless of family income, will go a long way toward achieving this goal. No child should have to go 

hungry in our schools, which is why I fully support the efforts of the Lunch for Learning Campaign to institute 

both of these important services.” 

 

“The task of removing barriers to success for our children takes many forms -- and among the most fundamental 

are barriesr to good nutrition. Simply said, a hungry child isn't focused on learning. Offering healthy meals, 

without any stigma attached, is a win-win,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. 

 

“A fundamental part of the school day should include ensuring that students have enough nourishment to learn. 

De-linking school lunch from family income will rid the program of the poverty stigma that negatively impacts 

participation, especially as children get older. This can be most effectively remedied by implementing 

universal free school lunch for all New York City public school students,” said Liz Accles, Executive Director 

of Community Food Advocates. 

 

“Our children should not go hungry. By changing our school lunch program, we can eliminate the stigma that 

keeps many children from getting the nutritious meal they need to stay focused in school,” said Michael 

Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers. 

 

“The American Academy of Pediatrics New York Chapter 3 enthusiastically supports universal school lunch. 

Food insecurity or lack of sufficient food at home is a problem for many New York City children and 

negatively affects children’s health. Universal school lunch will help to combat food insecurity. If universal 

free lunch is enacted, this will ensure that generations of NYC school children will have access to healthy food 

at school, a critical intervention for promoting the healthy growth and development of NYC children,” said Dr. 

Lori Legano, Vice President of the American Academy of Pediatrics New York Chapter 3.

 

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