FILE – In this Thursday, May 4, 2017, file photo, a third-grader punches her student ID to pay for a meal at Gonzalez Community School in Santa Fe, New Mexico (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, file)

ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — Friday is Action Against Hunger Day; People around the world are focusing on closing the gap for those facing hunger. In New York, lawmakers from both parties have sought to solve this problem by expanding the free school meals program.

During the pandemic, schools received free breakfast and lunch; School faculty and state lawmakers said this helped students who faced hunger and that’s why they fought to include it in this year’s budget. The bipartisan effort had called for more than $200 million to fund universal school meals, but this was a new demand. Our Capitol correspondent, Amal Tallaj, was told that there is not enough revenue available and that the state can only allocate $134 million for free school meals. Although it’s not fully funded, it’s still a tremendous help, said Kyle Belokopitsky, executive director of the NYS PTA, “because it’s really making a difference in high-needs, low-wealth school districts. In those school districts, school meals have been expanded to cover more Of the cases all school districts through what is called community eligibility provision.

Belokopitsky says that this upcoming session, the NYS PTA will seek funding to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. Current eligibility depends on the district, “If a school district qualifies for the enhanced breakfast and lunch program, they are aware of that, and most of them implemented that last week, to start school,” Belokopitsky said.

Some say the expansion is a huge success, but Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, said the state could do much more. “Almost every public school in New York already has some free school meals, the question is whether it’s universal,” he said. Or not, the question is whether they got rid of this complicated serving system and just served the meal to everyone.

One problem is that students will have to wake up early to get a free breakfast, making it known to everyone that they need a free meal, he said. “The stigma and shame, which is why we say the real solution is to offer breakfast in the first semester, where the underclassmen actually get meals delivered directly to their desks,” Berg explained.

You can call 1-866-3-HUNGRY to find out how you can get food benefits like SNAP or WIC and to find information about food pantries near you.

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