Gillibrand, Tonko pushing for free student meals to become permanent

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Trays of food at a school cafeteria. (KOIN)

SOUTH COLONIE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The USDA has been providing free school meals through COVID-19 waivers, and will continue to do so through the 2021-2022 school year. Elected officials caution that food insecurity will stick around longer than that.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressman Paul Tonko, and other elected officials stood outside Saddlewood Elementary School of the South Colonie Central School District Monday to push for broader assistance that goes beyond the pandemic.

South Colonie Central School District sees more than 30% of students utilizing free or reduced lunch, even before COVID-19.

“Our students that are with us today are prime examples of the future of New York State, and we should be proud to support their efforts as they grow and learn,” said Dr. David Perry, South Colonie CSD Superintendent.

But it’s hard to grow and learn on an empty stomach. According to Feeding America, one in six children may experience food insecurity in 2021.

Gillibrand says this problem requires bold action.

“I’m proud to support the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021, which would permanently provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack to all children, regardless of their income,” Gillibrand said, “and eliminate the burden that school debt has placed on schools and on families.”

Tonko joined Gillibrand in pushing for the legislation in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization currently being negotiated by the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“It’s fair to say that there were inequities and that there was food insecurity, but the pandemic exacerbated many of those statistics,” Tonko said.

Also in support of the legislation are Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, and Sherry Tomasky from Hunger Solutions New York.

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