A measure meant to provide free meals to students in all New York schools has gained support from seven Republicans in the state Assembly, a bipartisan show of support for the proposal ahead of Gov. Kathy Hochul's unveiling of her budget plan.
Support for the bill from the Republicans in Democratic-dominated Albany comes after more than 70 members of the state Legislature signed letters of support for the universal school meal proposal.
Lawmakers are calling for the state to provide free breakfast and lunch in schools as a pandemic-era federal program that allowed all schools to provide free meals. A waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture expired at the end of last June.
More than half of New York schools already offer free meals. But small schools in high-poverty areas of the state are often ineligible for the benefits from the community eligibility provision.
The bill is backed by state Sen. Michelle Hinchey and Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, both Democrats.
Having Republicans sign onto supporting the bill highlights a degree of bipartisanship for the measure that could affect hundreds of thousands of students in New York.
“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," González-Rojas said. "Addressing hunger in our state should not be a partisan issue. But it is a moral imperative.. 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 Republicans signing onto the measure as co-sponsors are Brian Maher, David G. McDonough, Joseph P. DeStefano, Keith Brown, Karl Brabenec, Josh Jensen and Jeff Gallahan.
Hochul is set to outline her budget proposal on Wednesday in Albany, and lawmakers hope the free meals provision will be included in the plan. The budget is expected to pass by the end of March.