December 03, 2012

At Schumer & Gillibrand’s Urging, USDA to Provide Free School Meals To NYC Children as NYC Recovers from Hurricane Sandy

Senators Pressed USDA Secretary Vilsack to Support Free School Meals through January and to Cut Bureaucratic Tape

New York, NY – After U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand urged U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to provide free school meals to New York City children as the city recovers from Hurricane Sandy, the Senators announced today that the USDA agreed to supply food relief for all school children citywide through the end of this year.

“It’s important for our children to have access to the nutritious food necessary to grow and learn while at school,” said Senator Schumer. “Unfortunately, thousands of New York City families were displaced or severely stressed after Superstorm Sandy and some of these students are facing a new hunger crisis, which must be addressed. I am relieved that the USDA heeded our call to support free school meals to New York City public school students during this difficult time. These meals will provide food relief to the children-in-need after Superstorm Sandy as we continue the fight to fully recover.”

“We have a moral obligation to ensure our city’s children do not go hungry,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Providing free school meals to all our city’s school children will help our schools meet the needs of children displaced by Hurricane Sandy and ensure our students have access to healthy, warm food.  I thank Secretary Vilsack for his leadership in our city’s time of need.”  

Earlier this month, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand backed New York State Department of Education’s request for full reimbursement of city school meals. The Senators wrote in a letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack, “We are writing in strong support of New York State Department of Education’s request to allow New York City schools to operate universal feeding programs and receive free reimbursement for all meals served through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) for the remainder of the calendar year, due to the hunger crisis caused by the Super Storm Sandy disaster… We appreciated USDA’s flexibility in allowing administrative flexibility for the month of November, but we ask that this be granted for the remainder of the calendar year. As is clearer by the day, this post disaster recovery will be months if not years in the making, and will require partnership at all levels of the government. Please consider granting the state of New York’s request immediately.”

Currently, public schools throughout New York City are facing enormous challenges in determining and processing the influx of students eligible for free or reduced breakfast and lunches after Hurricane Sandy. As many as 40,000 New York City families are now displaced or sheltering in poorly heated homes with no power, creating a jump in the number of children eligible for free school meals. Senators are urging USDA to help cut bureaucratic tape and provide food relief for all New York City school children through January 2013.

Full text of the Senators’ letter is below:

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

We are writing in strong support of New York State Department of Education’s request to allow New York City schools to operate universal feeding programs and receive free reimbursement for all meals served through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) for the remainder of the calendar year, due to the hunger crisis caused by the Super Storm Sandy disaster. 

The New York City school district is facing multiple obstacles in running their school meals program normally. The current situation prevents the district from operating normal systems to accurately determine current student eligibility and count and claim meals properly.  We appreciated USDA’s flexibility in allowing administrative flexibility for the month of November, but we ask that this be granted for the remainder of the calendar year. As is clearer by the day, this post disaster recovery will be months if not years in the making, and will require partnership at all levels of the government. Please consider granting the state of New York’s request immediately.

Prior to the disaster, approximately 86% of the lunches served in the NYC school district on an average day were served at a free or reduced price. When you consider that the city has estimated that as many as 40,000 New York City households are displaced or sheltering in poorly heated homes with no power, this request should be granted immediately.

We appreciate your swift and decisive action in responding to New York’s hunger crisis post-Super Storm Sandy. We look forward to your decision in regards to alleviating hunger amongst the school age population in New York City as we recover from this disaster.