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The simple act of feeding kids a healthy school breakfast plays a critical role in combating child hunger by providing children a significant portion of the nutrition they need to learn and be healthy.

As school doors re-open in New York, school breakfast will be vital to helping combat childhood hunger and learning loss prompted by COVID-19.

New York Implements Bold Legislative Changes to Improve Breakfast Participation

In the 2018–2019 school year, New York implemented legislation focused on building strong school breakfast programs. As a result, New York public schools with 70 percent or more students who were certified for free or reduced-price meals were required to implement breakfast after the bell models. In addition, New York took steps toward expanding free school breakfast to more students by eliminating reduced-price copayments for school meals effective July 1, 2019.

The Food Research & Action Center’s recent report, School Breakfast Scorecard, shows school breakfast participation has continued to surge since these progressive legislative changes went into effect. After the state eliminated the reduced-price co-payment and required breakfast to be served after the start of the school day, over 25,000 additional low-income New York State students ate breakfast each day in the 2019–2020 school year compared to the prior year—a 3.6 percent increase.

While these findings demonstrate tremendous gains in improving school breakfast participation among low-income students, more needs to be done to ensure that the School Breakfast Program regains lost ground caused by the pandemic to reach more children in need.

School Breakfast Amid COVID-19

Projections show that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted an 57% increase in child food insecurity in New York State. Hunger has a profoundly negative impact on children’s physical, emotional and mental development. Now, even more children are at-risk of experiencing hunger and losing ground academically due to school closures. Pandemic-related learning loss could widen academic achievement gaps for students of low-income households.

Meanwhile, schools are navigating the unprecedented challenges in the 2020-2021 school year with students learning in remote settings and those learning in-person unable to congregate in traditional meal service settings like the cafeteria. Schools are working hard to ensure that children continue to receive the nutrition they need by providing meals to children at grab and go meal sites and using creative planning in school. Despite these efforts, schools are reporting that COVID-19 has caused a significant decline in school meal participation.

Prioritize Access to School Breakfast Now

With COVID-19 undoing much of the progress made in school breakfast participation combined with significant increases in child food insecurity, now more than ever is a crucial time to prioritize students’ access to school breakfast.

Looking Ahead to the 2021-2022 School Year

With COVID-19 undoing much of the progress made in school breakfast participation combined with significant increases in child food insecurity, now more than ever is a crucial time to prioritize students’ access to school breakfast. Low participation in school breakfast not only translates to hungry children, but also lost federal and state funding to support school food services and local economies. Even prior to the pandemic New York State was leaving over $46.9 million in federal funding on the table by not reaching more eligible children with school breakfast.

Action is needed now. Strengthening School Breakfast Program participation is critical to safeguarding children from the alarming spikes in child hunger, along with filling the nutrition gaps and learning loss caused by the pandemic. Reaching more students who are at risk of hunger improves their chances of leading healthy lives, achieving higher academic performance and avoiding food insecurity in adulthood.

  • Schools and school districts: Start planning your school breakfast service to overcome timing, convenience, and stigma barriers by newly adopting or revitalizing your Breakfast After the Bell program to serve breakfast outside of the cafeteria and after the start of the school day. Also, consider offering breakfast at no charge to all student either through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or Provision 2 for the next school year.
  • Parents: Many schools are offering free breakfasts and lunches to all students. Check with your school nutrition department to access these meals.
  • Advocates: Encourage your legislators to enact legislation that supports strong school breakfast programs and close the gap between school breakfast and lunch participation. Call on lawmakers to enact legislation that will expand breakfast after the bell programs and/or create hungry-free schools by providing free school meals to all.

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