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Friday, October 31, 2014

Advocates push free school lunch for all

By Maya Rajamani
Posted
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
First Graders Caleb Javier, Oliver Heenan and Bronson Branch, right to left, are excited about their choices at the AmPark Neighborhood School cafeteria line.

Marble Hill High School sophomore Saira Majid, 15, waits until after school to eat lunch. Though her family’s income is high enough to disqualify her from the free lunch program, the $1.75 her school charges for lunch each day compels her to wait until she gets home to eat. 

“A lot of people I know don’t eat lunch because they have to pay,” she said. 

While the $73.9 billion budget plan released by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday included no mention of the City Council’s proposed measure to provide free lunches to all public school students, local advocates hope the final budget will allocate funding for the measure. 

“It will give kids the opportunity to eat a healthy lunch - especially in the upper levels, the high schools,” said District 10 Community Education Council (CEC) president Marvin Shelton. 

“They’re going to the food truck outside or the pizzeria, it’s costing them money and it’s not exactly nutritious,” he said. 

Since the fall of 2013, supporters led by Public Advocate Letitia James have pushed the city to provide free lunches to all public school students, regardless of family income bracket, contending that students who qualify must deal with the stigma of receiving a free lunch when their peers do not. 

The measure would cost the city between $20 million and $24 million, according to projections by the City Council. State and federal aid would cover additional costs. While approximately 780,000 public school students qualify for free lunch, currently, only 530,000 are enrolled in the program. 

Eligibility for both the free and reduced lunch programs is based on household size and monthly income. An annual income of $30,615 qualifies a family of four for free lunch, while an income below $43,568 qualifies for reduced-price lunch, according to NYC Department of Education (DOE) statistics. 

Reluctant parents

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