ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — One in seven children face hunger here in New York, according to the Feeding America Organization. Members of the Senate and State Assembly sent a letter to the Governor, urging her to include free breakfast and lunch meals for schools in next year’s budget.

“To be schooled you must be fueled, to be well read you must be well fed,” said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America says. Berg says good nutrition is a key part of any successful school day. During the pandemic, high poverty schools received federal pandemic relief, known as the Community Eligibility Provision, allowing all students to get free breakfast and lunch. This ended in June of 2022.

Now, over 700,00 students are losing access to free meals, disproportionately affecting black, brown and rural students. A letter sent from members of the State Assembly and Senate reads: “Students without proper nutrition struggle to focus…and are at greater risk of mental and physical health problems. We urge you to  …fund free healthy school meals for all New York students in your 2023-2024 Executive Budget.”

Berg said child hunger is horrible in New York State, “More than one million New York State children live in homes that can’t afford enough food. That’s why universal school meals are so important, especially for suburbs or rural areas that tend to have a lower school meals participation.”

Robert Lowry, Deputy Director for the NYS Council of School Superintendents said the free meals helped families who didn’t meet the criteria for the free or reduced lunch program. “The current cut off under regular law was an income of $51,400 for a family of four. That’s not a lot of money in New York State so some students from lower income families fell through the cracks,” he said.

Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas spearheaded the letter and said other states have already included this in their budget. “So New York needs to take lead as well. Places like Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts and California have taken the lead on this issue so it’s time that New York does as well. We care about our children too much to not let this happen,” she said.