Last Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council announced the finalization of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, which includes a $6.25 million pilot program that will provide free school lunches for all of the city’s middle school students.
Beginning this fall, the program will provide lunch to over 170,000 middle school students across the five boroughs.
According to Lunch 4 Learning, a campaign spearheaded by the group Community Food Advocates aimed at making free and healthy meals available to all of the city’s students, 250,000 out of the 780,000 students eligible for free or reduced price meals did not participate in the subsidized school lunch program in 2013.
The number of students that participate drops as the students get older, with 81 percent of elementary school students eating school lunch, but only 61 percent of middle school students and 28 percent of high school students.
Executive director of Community Food Advocates Liz Accles commended the work of the mayor and City Council in funding the pilot program.
“This is an incredibly transformative moment for middle school students who will grow up with a school lunch program where everyone eats on equal terms — the poverty stigma attached to school lunch will be erased,” Accles wrote in a statement.
“This major shift lays the groundwork for universal free school lunch for all New York City students,” she added.
Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, agreed.
“This is a sensible compromise, and starting with middle school is a good first step towards eventual universal meals for all,” Berg said. “Providing school meals at no charge to students is not only an anti-hunger measure, it gives our students the fuel they need to succeed, and would save some lower middle-class families hundreds of dollars a year. As I always say, to be schooled, you must be fueled. To be well read, you must be well fed.”
The approximate $75 billion budget, which was announced on June 19, will also increase policing on city streets by hiring police administrative aides, provide funding to keep 57 NYCHA community and senior centers open, expand legal services and English classes for immigrants, secure funding for summer youth jobs and expand child care vouchers for low-income families, among many other initiatives and programs.
“A budget agreement is where rhetoric meets the road – and we’ve delivered a fiscally responsible, progressive, and honest budget that will have an enormous impact on New Yorkers across the five boroughs while protecting our city’s fiscal health,” de Blasio said.
“This is one of the earliest agreements in recent history, a result of the productive dynamic we’ve developed with the Council that ends the cynical budget dance and delivers results for New Yorkers,” the mayor added.
Council Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras said the FY 2015 budget process “has had a level of unprecedented transparency and inclusion within the City Council.”
“Each decision was made with great calculation and reflects our desire to close the growing inequality gap affecting so many residents in our City,” Ferreras said.