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Mannion supports including free school lunch program in state budget

lunch tray
iStockphoto.com

A federal government program provided free lunch in schools for all children during the pandemic. Now that the program has ended, some New York legislators are pushing for it to be part of the New York state budget.

Democratic State Sen. John Mannion is one of those legislators. As a former teacher, he said this type of program is essential.

"I watched in the schools an increasing number of students that were eligible for free and reduced lunch," Mannion said.

He said he has noticed inequities in who qualifies in the system — noting the federal program helped many.

"I think it worked in a number of different ways," Mannion said. "More and more families are struggling."

To be eligible for free lunch under the current guidelines, a family of four must earn an annual income below $36,075.

Healthy School Meals for All, a coalition of anti-hunger and education advocates, states an estimated 470,000 children living in households making below living wage are ineligible for free lunch in school. They say having a universal program will benefit many as it could help eliminate a stigma for children experiencing hunger.

The coalition also states children will better succeed in school as hungry children have trouble focusing, lower attendance and are at greater risks of mental and physical health problems.

Mannion said he would expect a push for the program to be included in the Senate's one-house if it is not included in Hochul's state budget.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.