Between books, backpacks and clothes, parents have a lot to balance financially when it comes to back to school and that also includes food. New York state has allocated $134 million for school meals to help supplement the expiration of some federal aid. However, advocates are calling for even more funding in an effort to establish a universal school meal program.

Charlee Stead and her husband have a lot to juggle financially. They’re hoping to take one thing off of their full plate and that’s having to pay for school lunches. 

What You Need To Know

  • State funding for the Community Eligibility Provision program will provide several school districts in New York with free breakfast and lunch this upcoming school year for all students

  • Around 7,000 schools in the U.S. adopted CEP this year. 

  • According to Hunger Solutions New York, it's estimated to save families approximately $140 per month, per child, on grocery benefits

“The prices are just astronomical for everything,” Stead said. “Even my dog food went up $20 in the past couple of months.”

Stead allocates about $100 a month for school meals.

“Inflation has been tough on our family, especially when we're not in that income bracket that puts us at the poverty level,” said Stead.

In this year’s state budget, lawmakers allocated $134 million to expand free school meals. The funding allows for more high-poverty schools to provide breakfast and lunch at no cost to all students.

“It improves access by reducing paperwork burdens, and it completely eliminates this issue of school meal debt that can accrue when families are just above the income limits for free school meals, but they can't afford to pay,” said Krista Hesdorfer, public affairs director for Hunger Solutions.

However, the investment doesn’t cover all schools across the state.

“Particular, many of our smaller or rural schools may not be able to meet the eligibility threshold for the program,” Hesdorfer said. “Studies do show that access to free school meals is associated with improved attendance, reduced tardiness, fewer visits to the school nurse, reduced risk of certain mental and physical health problems.”

There are dozens of schools in upstate New York that will be providing free lunches for all this year, regardless of a family’s income. Thanks to community eligibility provision or CEP. Almost 7,000 schools nationwide qualified for cep this year.

“Schools that are able to offer free school, breakfast and lunch for all students this school year, it equates to a savings of about $140 per month per child in grocery costs,” Hesdorfer said. “That is significant relief for families.”

It’s relief for families like Stead who is waiting to see if her district will be eligible for free meals in the new school year.

“I get approximately four low balance reminders a month,” Stead said. “It seems like a lot because it is weekly. I do put $20 on her account every week.” 

There are nine states that will provide meals at no cost to all their students this school year – Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont and Nevada.

“She also shared with me that she felt uncomfortable bringing her lunch because all of her friends were getting their lunch at school,” said Stead.

Stead is hoping New York will soon join that list.

“It would mean a lot it's just a lot of money out of pocket that we really just don't have,” said Stead.