KINGSTON, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Ulster County Legislators are calling on New York State representatives to remove administrative barriers and provide universal access to free meals for all students in grades K-12. This action will impact over 2,000 schools and 800,000 students across the state, addressing food insecurity for children and families.

Resolution No. 493, introduced by Legislator Megan Sperry, and co-sponsored by Chair Bartels and Legislators Criswell, Erner, Hansut, Hewitt, Uchitelle, and Walter, call on the State Legislature to continue the free universal school lunch program provided during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program for providing free lunch to students during COVID-19 expired in June 2022, requiring families to apply and qualify for free or reduced-cost meals for students. Other states such as Massachusetts, Nevada, and Vermont had adopted the legislation for the 2022-2023 school year and California and Maine have adopted the legislation further to make universal free lunch permanent across their states.

Legislator Sperry states, “Household food insecurity rates have been significantly increasing since before the pandemic. The expiration of the COVID waiver program has made it very apparent that this issue is no longer a problem that only affects low-income families, middle class families are feeling the impact of rising food costs as well. Every day parents are having to make difficult choices about the quality of food they can provide for their children.”

Legislator Gina Hansut, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County, Chair Tracey Bartels, and Ulster County parent Cheryl Byron are also in support of universal free lunch for students. Feeding America reports one in ten people, and one in seven children in New York State face hunger, with 12% of Ulster County residents and 17% of Ulster County children reported as being food insecure.

Resolution No. 493 was unanimously adopted by the Legislature’s Standing Committee on Economic Development, Planning, Employment, Education, Arts & Agriculture on Tuesday, October 4. It is anticipated that the Health, Human Services & Housing Committee will pass the Resolution at their meeting on Friday, October 7. The full Legislature will consider the measure at their monthly Legislative Session on Tuesday, October 18. Full text of the Resolution can be accessed by clicking here. Legislative Session will be available via Livestream on vimeo.