Press Release

Gillibrand Announces Legislation To Provide Free Breakfast, Lunch, And Dinner To Schoolchildren 

May 11, 2023

1 in 6 Children In New York Face Hunger; Gillibrand’s Legislation Would Get Free Meals To Kids Who Need Them

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, held a video press conference to announce the introduction of the Universal School Meals Program Act. The bill would provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack to all schoolchildren regardless of income, expand access to free meals over the summer, and eliminate school meal debt. 

In the richest country on earth, it is unacceptable that millions of kids go hungry each day,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Universal School Meals Program Act would provide funding for free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack for students who need them and slash burdensome red tape for school administrators. It would make our families and communities healthier and stronger, keep kids in school, and work to fight the stigma too often associated with meal programs. I’m proud to be introducing this critical legislation today and look forward to getting it passed.”

The Universal School Meals Program Act would: 

  1. Permanently provide free breakfast, lunch, and dinner to all schoolchildren regardless of income and put an end to burdensome application paperwork that poses a barrier to enrollment in meal programs.
  2. Increase the reimbursement rates for school authorities participating in the food and nutrition programs to more accurately reflect the true cost of providing meals.
  3. Reduce stigma associated with meal programs by eliminating meal debt and prohibiting school food authorities from discriminating against or overtly identifying a child participating in the free meal program
  4. Expand the summer food service program and summer EBT program by making all children eligible to participate in the programs. Currently, only communities where 50 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch can operate a summer meals program; the Universal School Meals Program Act would make all communities eligible regardless of income.

Free school meals are associated with a variety of positive outcomes, including improved attendance rates and school performance, fewer behavioral incidents, lower suspension rates, better health outcomes, and reduced financial stress for students and families. 

Kirsten is a longstanding champion for childhood nutrition. In March, she reintroduced the bipartisan MODERN WIC Act, which would make WIC benefits more accessible to low-income families by allowing them to certify and recertify for WIC services remotely. She also introduced the bipartisan Summer Meals Act, which would provide meals to children and teens in low-income areas during the summer months when school is not in session.

A summary of the Universal School Meals Program Act is available here.