By Fran Barrett
Imagine having to choose between paying your bills and feeding your children. The reality is that too many families don’t have to imagine it: nearly a million children still don’t have consistent access to food.
In New York, we believe that no child should go hungry. As the state once again increases funding for education and expands access to tuition-free college, we are taking aggressive action to end student hunger.
This year, under the leadership of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, we are announcing a five-point plan.
It begins with addressing the shameful practice of lunch-shaming: children without lunch money being forced to wear identifying stickers or bracelets, or have their names called over the loudspeaker. Often they are given alternative, lower-quality lunches. Sometimes, they are denied food altogether.
The state will act immediately to ban any public act intended to stigmatize a student who cannot afford lunch and eliminate alternative lunches, requiring the same lunch be served to all.
While we have made great strides in providing healthy lunch to students, many still lack access to a nutritious breakfast. On an average day, only about 30 percent of New York students who are eligible for a free or reduced-price breakfast actually receive one.
New York will no longer allow our children to start the day hungry.
We will expand Breakfast After the Bell, a program already shown to increase attendance and academic achievement.
Schools where more than 70 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch will be required to extend cafeteria hours beyond the start of the school day, distribute breakfast in the classroom, or provide grab-and-go breakfasts or access to vending machines.
We will also increase the amount of fresh, healthy food our students are eating. In 2015, New York established the Farm to School program to connect schools with local farmers, a synergistic pairing of the state’s educational and agricultural assets.
This year we take another giant step by doubling our Farm to School commitment, enabling the program to serve locally sourced meals to more than 650,000 students.
And to further incentivize school districts to use farm-fresh products, we are quadrupling the reimbursement schools receive in any district that purchases at least 30 percent of its ingredients from New York farms.
Student hunger is not limited to K-12. A recent national survey of college students found that 48 percent experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days, making hunger more common among college students than the U.S. population as a whole.
An additional $1 million in state funds will make New York the first state in the nation to require public college campuses to have food pantries.
In New York, we understand that the future rests in the hands of today’s students. With these crucial steps, we will continue to provide the leaders of tomorrow the nutrition and tools needed to succeed.
Fran Barrett is Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's interagency coordinator for not-for-profit services.