Maher, Oberacker Calling for
Universal School Meals Program
Assemblyman Brian Maher (R,C-Walden) and Senator Peter Oberacker (R,C-Schenevus) are among a group of legislators reaching across the aisle to support creation of a permanent healthy school meals program in New York State.
Maher is a co-sponsor of the legislation introduced by prime sponsor Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas (D, WFP-East Elmhurst). The bill as proposed, A0194/S01678-A, would establish the program to provide breakfast and lunch to all children in public school districts, from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.
The federal program that guaranteed meals to students during the pandemic has expired, leaving 726,000 students without access to a healthy breakfast and lunch. Maher and Oberacker were joined at a press conference on February 17 by Wallkill Central School District Superintendent Kevin Castle, Sara Gunn, director of the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, and Lori Rolison of the American Heart Association.
“Our children deserve to succeed in school, no matter their circumstances. None of them should be distracted by hunger taking their attention from their studies, personal growth and development,” said Maher, a member of the Committee on Children and Families. “Financial hardship has hit more families than we realize and children shouldn’t suffer for it. This is why a bipartisan network of legislators are working together to create a universal healthy school meals program. Healthy kids mean healthy futures.”
“My father instilled in me at a very young age the value of eating healthy and he always talked about how important it was that his children did not go to bed or to school on an empty stomach,” said Senator Oberacker. “I am proud to join Assemblyman Brian Maher as well as officials from the Wallkill Central School District to support this program, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate in the coming weeks as we begin budget negotiations.”
“Children who are not well fed cannot be well read. With the federal government in gridlock, it is incumbent on our state to address the hunger cliff that has impacted almost 800,000 children in New York State. Addressing hunger in our state should not be a partisan issue. But it is a moral imperative,” said González-Rojas. “My Republican colleagues understand that universal school meals have incredible health, academic and economic benefits for families. I call on our state legislature and governor to fund this proposal in our next state budget. No child should have to go to bed hungry at night. We must speak to the very real economic concerns of New York families from across the state and this proposal will help us do just that.”
“The Food Bank of the Hudson Valley happily supports universal school meals for K-12 students. We have worked with school districts to set up pantries at individual schools and students won’t use them because of the stigma. Students aren’t coming because they are more afraid of being teased or bullied than they are of going hungry. A program like universal school meals will eliminate this problem. No child should go hungry, especially over something like stigma in the schools,” added Gunn.
According to a statement released by Maher’s office last week, one in seven kids in New York State experiences hunger. Financial pressures from inflation and other factors are impacting more working families than before, and a family of four making $51,400.00, who already have to make dollars stretch, does not qualify for the existing school program.
Maher also pointed out that rural schools often fall through the cracks, unable to provide meals to students. This is partly due to the fact that although there is poverty in rural areas as well, because it is less concentrated, these schools are often ineligible for the federal Community Eligibility Provision.
The universal healthy school meals bill will remove these hurdles and barriers faced by children in getting access to nutritious meals. The legislators hope to see its passage this year.