New York City’s $75 billion budget includes the first step toward offering free lunch for all 1.1 million students, expanding a program now reserved only for the poorest children.
Starting in September, the city will spend an additional $6.25 million a year so that all 177,000 public school students in the sixth through eighth grades will qualify for free breakfast and lunch without requiring parents to certify that their income is 130 percent of the poverty level.
A City Hall spokesman confirmed to Hamodia that non-public schools such as yeshivos are not eligible for the program
By expanding the program, advocates seek to eliminate the shame and embarrassment that keep many children who qualify for the free lunches from receiving them. About 780,000 city students are poor enough to be eligible, yet only about 250,000 participate.
Mayor Bill de Blasio initially resisted efforts by the council to spend $24 million to extend the program to all students. The mayor, who took office Jan. 1 vowing to fight income inequality, said he needed to balance that goal with fiscal responsibility.
New York’s free-lunch program cost $425 million last year, with the city paying about $23 million and the federal government contributing more than $375 million, according to Amy Spitalnick, spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget. The state contributed about $10 million, and an additional $16 million came from miscellaneous revenue.
In announcing his June 20 budget deal with the council, de Blasio described providing lunch to all middle-school students as part of an agenda that included expanded summer youth programs, investment in affordable housing, universal pre-kindergarten and increased police protection in public housing.
The National School Lunch Program, which began in 1946, has taken an increasing bite out of the federal budget, leading some to question its value. Its initial $70 million outlay fed about 7 million. In 2012, more than 31.6 million students received free lunch at a cost $11.6 billion.
“Economists always say there’s no such thing as a free lunch; someone has to pay for it,” said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief of staff for former President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.
“New York and federal budgets and taxpayers are under stress right now, and the question is, how best to target the dollars we have,” she said. “It’s more efficient to spend it on the basis of need. Up until now we’ve had a core value that people with limited income should get services like this.”