Universal School Lunch Starts School Year Off With Healthy Meals

Assembly member Latrice Walker and Public Advocate Tish James visiting with Elias Nuesi

The first day of school can bring a lot of unexpected surprises for students but this year students can expect to get a healthy lunch every day.

Public Advocate Letitia James and Assembly member Latrice Walker (D-Brownsville) visited students at P.S. 178 Saint Clair Mckelway in Brownsville today to tout the new Universal School Lunch Program implemented for the first time this academic year.

Earlier this month, Schools Chancellor, Carmen Farina announced the implementation of the program that is expected to reach 1.1 million students. The program will make lunch free for every student at every public school across the city.

Public Advocate Letitia James

“You see a lot of the kids at this school are homeless, a lot of these children come from very challenging circumstances and so it’s critically important that we love them and that we provide them with a nutritious lunch. For some of these students this is the only nutritious meal they will receive all day and we want to teach them the importance of education, that education will help them overcome a lot of the other challenges in their lives,” said James.  

According to officials, 75 percent of NYC public school students already qualified for free or reduced-price lunches before the program was established including a free system wide breakfast program.

In the past, the city sought all forms of funding for meal reimbursement before becoming eligible to receive the highest reimbursement from the federal government through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). The federal program allows school districts to provide meals free of charge to all enrolled students, according to officials.

In preparation for the 2017-2018 school year, the New York State Education Department implemented a new data matching engine that refined the methods to identify families eligible for free lunch through the Direct Certification Matching Process (DCMP) – a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiative that qualifies children for free meals using electronic documentation obtained directly from other government programs including Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Local resident and mother, Laura Nuesi, 26, expressed her gratitude for the program she knows will benefit her child and bring some added relief to her weekly grocery bills.

“It’s great! It means that we can save and that he [Elias] is going to have a well-balanced meal and we won’t have to worry about making sure that he is eating right,” said Nuesi.

Assemblywoman Latrice Walker

The event was a full circle moment for Walker, who attended P.S. 178 as a third grader. Walker recounted her time as a participant in the free lunch program and the challenges she faced trying to eat in her school cafeteria as a child.

“If certain people had lunch tickets we were a little embarrassed to be able to use them because if you had a lunch ticket that meant that your family was poor. But we, as children, didn’t want to stand out, some how [as children] we created different tiers of poverty to school lunch. So with this program we wanted to wipe out the stigma associated with free lunch,” said Walker.