COLONIE – Starting Friday, Dec. 1, all students in the North and South Colonie Central School Districts will be able to receive free breakfast and lunch at school.
While free lunch to those who can’t afford it is not new, both districts applied for and received waivers from the federal government to fund meals for every student. The notification to both districts came last week, and both are ready to roll it out.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Capital District school districts announced that all meals would be free to every enrolled student regardless of income, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) covering the cost of school meals during the 2021-22 school year. However, In June 2022, the program was ended with no funds allocated in the state budget to continue it. This resulted in 2,000 schools in New York losing access to COVID-era free breakfast and lunch.
“This news ensures that families with tight food budgets can feel confident that their child is getting two nutritious meals at school, reducing financial strain at home,” said South Colonie Food Service Director Annette Sukup. “We are thrilled to share this information with families, especially during the holiday season, as we are confident it will genuinely impact the lives of many within our school community.”
In New York state, around 800,000 students depend on free breakfast and lunch at their schools as of 2022. Because of this, both North and South Colonie schools participate in the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted program that provides free or reduced cost meals for students whose families qualify through an application process.
Advocates, such as Hunger Solutions NY, urged lawmakers to push through an emergency waiver that would allow the program to continue. Without the waiver, a family of four must earn less than roughly $35,000 to qualify for free meals for the upcoming school year.
Despite the bulk of the pandemic coming to a close in the last year, many families still struggle with finances in the face of inflation. This has led to poor eating habits in students, with some missing meals altogether.
The Department of Agriculture has recently expanded its Community Eligibility Provision – a meal service option for School Food Authorities (SFA) and schools to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to students without the burden of collecting household applications. This will allow the school districts to once again be eligible to offer free meals for the next four years.
“We are thrilled to learn that we have qualified for free meals under the new state and federal guidelines. Having the ability to provide free breakfast and lunch to all of our students will be life-changing for some and certainly helpful to all others who wish to take advantage of the assistance,” said North Colonie Superintendent Kathleen Skeals. “It is vital for all students to have access to complete and nutritious meals that set them up to succeed in and out of the classroom on a daily basis. To be able to do that at no cost is an additional bonus.”
New York State’s reimbursement rate has also increased to cover the full cost of the meals, meaning there will be no additional costs for parents, taxpayers or the school districts.