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Sen. Gillibrand Says Universal School Meals Program Helps Families And Farmers Alike

WAER file photo

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is trying to gather support for legislation aimed at reducing child food insecurity nationwide. The Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 is part of the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization being negotiated by the Senate Agriculture Committee. Gillibrand says the program would make all school meals permanently free.

“The burden -plus the stigma some children or families fear- of being labeled poor by their classmates often makes eligible families decide not to participate.”

Gillibrand says that one in four children in New York State are fighting food insecurity, and likewise in rural counties, where one in three children are food insecure. Locally, Syracuse City School District Food and Nutrition Director Rachel Murphy told WAER News last summer the district served up to 20,000 meals a day. It was recently announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will continue to feed 34 million children nationwide this summer as part of the extension of the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program. Gillibrand says schools will also benefit.

“We also saw that when pandemic EBT and the school lunch program was made universal under COVID, that it streamlined costs for a lot of schools.”

Gillibrand says students who qualify and participate in the free school meal program often have better attendance and better grades. She says it could also help out struggling farmers.

“The bill provides an incentive for up to 30 cents per meal for schools that source 25% of their food locally. If every school in the country met the 25% local food goal, it would provide local farmers with more than $3.3 billion increase in income every year. That would transform New York rural communities.”

Gillibrand says the bill has support from school districts and most Democrats. She says, however, there’s still work to do with gaining support from Republicans and determining the cost of the plan.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at