ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Over a dozen people rallied at the State Capitol calling for the state to provide healthy and free school meals to all students. 

They’re looking for action through the New York State budget. 

“Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are seeing these impacts on families and the kids in their district and they’re supporting it they know that kids are hungry and we all agree that kids need to be fed,” Brianna Durkee, State Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association, said.  

Governor Kathy Hochul included $60 Million for locally sourced school meals and food retailers in underserved communities in her 2024 budget proposal, but advocates say there’s more to be done including continuing funding pandemic-era assistance programs that ended last year. 

Universal free lunches comes with a $200 Million price tag in addition to $4 Million in funding for the Double Up Food Bucks program, which matched buying power for certain foods for SNAP recipients, allowing more people to buy healthier options they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. The program was expanded at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the federal waiver expired in June. 

“With the impact of inflation on rising food costs and emergency allotment of SNAP, it’s imperative that our leaders in Albany support a continued state investment in Double Up Food Bucks,” Lisa French, Executive Director of Field and Fork Network, said.

Without that funding, supporters say the quality of education for thousands of students statewide could be impacted. 

“The public health benefits are very real,” Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas, D-Queens, said. “Better mental health, the ability to focus and actually process the educational material you’re learning every day, the reduction of stigma and better self esteem.”