Press Release

Gillibrand Announces New NYC Program to Expand Free School Meals to Thousands of City Youth

Mar 7, 2012

New York, NY – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today announced a new federal pilot program which will connect New York City youth from low-income families with free school breakfast and lunch based on their Medicaid information. By automatically enrolling eligible youth from kindergarten through 12th grade, the City will be able to cut through bureaucratic tape and provide an additional estimated 7,000 students throughout the five boroughs with access to healthy school meals. Last year, Senator Gillibrand urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to select New York City to launch this new streamlined process. 

“Every child needs access to healthy meals and too many of our children are falling victim to the obesity crisis,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This new program is a common sense step towards ensuring that our city youth achieve their full potential. When we invest in healthy meals for our city schoolchildren, we improve their chances of success in the classroom and beyond.” 

“New York’s collaboration with USDA on this pilot project will help hundreds of thousands of low-income children in New York City receive free meals at school,” Governor Cuomo said. “New York State has made ending child hunger a top priority, and this program will support our efforts to improve nutrition and access to healthy meals in our schools. I thank Secretary Vilsack for his leadership and hard work.” 

“This is great news for our families and city children, and will allow us to continue to progress to more streamlined, efficient processes for helping families access benefits,” said Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs.  “This has been a key area of focus for New York City and we look forward to working with the USDA to further advance our efforts.” 

“Thanks to this program, thousands more New York City families will enjoy a nutritious breakfast and lunch every day, with reduced costs and a less burdensome application,” said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. “I want to thank Sen. Gillibrand, Gov. Cuomo, State Education Commissioner King and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack for choosing New York City, where we have been focused on improving health and fitness in our schools for the past decade.” 

Currently, families on Medicaid must fill out forms each year in order to enroll their children in the school meals program. But many end up paying full cost of the meals, estimated at $270 per year for school lunch for each child, since the necessary paperwork was either lost or not followed through on. 

Under the new pilot program beginning July 1st, 2012, the City Education Department will work with the NYC Human Resources Administration to use an electronic data system to automatically enroll students who are on Medicaid in the federal free school meals program. Each day, the City Education Department serves approximately 660,000 lunches and 230,000 breakfasts in nearly 2,000 locations. The City estimates there are approximately 7,000 students who are on Medicaid but currently not enrolled in the school meals program who will be automatically enrolled through this demonstration project. 

The passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which Senator Gillibrand fought for in the Child Nutrition Bill, marks the first time that states have been allowed to test this new process, called direct certification, with Medicaid information. New York was selected as one of six states to launch this new streamlined process. The program would offset the cost for the additional children who are automatically enrolled for free school meals, which could provide the City as much as $5 million in federal funding.