Universal meals in New York schools is being advanced this week by state lawmakers who are backing $280 million in the budget negotiations for the plan. 

The universal school meals proposal has gained traction in the state Legislature over the last several weeks, drawing support from Democrats as well as Republican lawmakers after federal support for the program ended. 

It's estimated nearly 800,000 students in New York's schools would benefit from the school meal plan. 

Lawmakers on Thursday in the state Senate and Assembly have included the money in their own budget resolutions in addition to an overall boost in school spending by nearly 10%. The budget is due by April 1, and Gov. Kathy Hochul has backed the broad outlines of the push to spend an additional $2.6 billion in direct aid to schools. 

“The Assembly Majority has always been a tireless advocate for our public schools and our students,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “Our budget reflects our continued commitment to ensuring that every student has access to a high-quality public education, regardless of where they live.”

Schools in New York are still facing challenges in the wake of the COVID pandemic even with more state and federal assistance. The pandemic has proved disruptive to students as teachers are contending with learning loss and the mental health effects from the last several years.