City Leaders Advocate For Universal Free Lunch

10-Universal-Free-Lunch

Queens leaders advocate at City Hall for the universal free lunch program.

BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Staff Writer

The Citizens’ Committee for Children (CCC) released an analysis last week of the city Department of Education’s free school lunch eligibility data and found that nearly 110,000 public school students from moderately low-income families struggle to afford school lunch fees, with the majority of those families residing in Queens neighborhoods.

According to the study, Briarwood, Fresh Meadows, Ridgewood, Glendale, Jamaica and St. Albans have the highest numbers of students from low-income families who do not have access to free school lunch programs.

For students to be eligible for free school lunch, their household income must be at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), which is $34,911 for a family of three. If a student’s family income is above the FPL, he or she is mandated to pay $1.75 per meal. Since some families earn between 185 and 275 percent of the FPL, their incomes disqualify them from free school lunch, despite the fact that they may be struggling to support their families amid the city’s high cost of living.

In Elmhurst and Corona, 82 percent of the 4,500 students living in moderately low-income households are able to attend schools with a universal free lunch program, according to the CCC. Approximately 23 percent of the 5,100 students living in moderately low-income households in Fresh Meadows and Briarwood are able to utilize the program.

Photo by Desiree Lopez

The communities with the lowest percentage of students who attend schools with free lunch are Bayside (16.7 percent), Rego Park and Forest Hills (17.8 percent) and Queens Village (20.3 percent).

“I think we’re missing an opportunity to use available federal funding to make school lunches free and I think we have to end any stigma around school lunches and universalize it,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2013 during a Future of Food in New York City Forum.

On Monday, city leaders rallied at City Hall to demand that de Blasio provide universal free school lunch to all of the city’s 1.1 million public- school students.

Among those representing the borough were Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Councilmen I. Daneek Miller (St. Albans) and Eric Ulrich (D-Ozone Park), as well as Mercedes Buchanan, chief of staff for Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and Monica Gutierrez, director of education for the Queens borough president, Melinda Katz.

“We can ensure a nutritious meal for all 1.1 million NYC school kids and reduce the stigma for students facing hunger, all at a minimal cost to the city,” Katz said. “Universal school lunch is the right thing to do and it’s what our children deserve.”

Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or ahernandez@queenstribune.com

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