New York

All NYC Public School Students Are Now Eligible for Free Lunches

What to Know

  • All New York City students will be eligible for free lunch when the 2017-18 school year begins on Thursday.
  • The program is paid for through a federal program that provides free lunches in the nation's highest-poverty schools.
  • There are no conditions on the free lunches, and no applications are required.

Lunch money could be a thing of the past in cafeterias across the nation’s largest school district when the school year starts on Thursday.

Every public school student in New York City will now be eligible for free lunch when they head back to classrooms under the city’s “Free Lunch for All” program, which schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Leticia James announced on Wednesday.

That’s up from the 75 percent who were eligible for free lunch last school year. And the change means that as many as 200,000 additional student -- about 20 percent of the 1.1 million students in city public schools -- could save as much as $1.75 a day in lunch money. That translates to roughly $300 a year in savings per family each school year.

“Students need healthy meals to stay focused in school, and it is a major step forward that every New York City student will have access to free breakfast and lunch every day,” said Fariña. “Free School Lunch for All” will provide financial relief to families and ensure all students are receiving nutritious meals so that they can succeed in the classroom and beyond.”

Students at schools participating in the city’s SchoolFood service, including both traditional public schools and charter schools, will have access to free lunches. They won't have to apply specifically for free lunch, but families are requested to fill out paperwork that will help city schools receive federal funding overall. 

“We know that students cannot learn or thrive in school if they are hungry all day,” said Mayor de Blasio. “Free school lunch will not only ensure that every kid in New York City has the fuel they need to succeed but also further our goal of providing an excellent and equitable education for all students.”

Department of Education officials said that universal free lunch in city schools won’t require any more spending by the city. Rather, the program is made possible through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision, which allows the nation’s highest poverty schools to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students without collecting household applications.

The city was able to qualify for the program after the state Education Department implemented new data collection engines that helped officials better identify students and families eligible for free lunch under USDA guidelines. The engine increased the number of students eligible for the program and increased the city’s own eligibility for the USDA’s universal free lunch program.

Several other public school systems across the country, including ones in Detroit and Boston, qualify for universal free lunch under the federal program. 

During the 2016-17 school year, the I-Team reported that students whose families earned slightly over income thresholds for free lunch were opting to go hungry rather than come home to their families with bills in their backpacks.

A report by the nonprofit Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York City that year also found that nearly 110,000 students whose families made too much for free lunch but less than 275 percent of the federal poverty level (about $52,000 for a family of three) had to pay full price for meals.

Several mothers outside P.S. 1 in midtown told News 4 New York on Wednesday that the announcement is huge for them. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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