New York lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul are close to a final agreement to fund universal school meal costs across the state as part of the still-under negotiation budget.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie signaled Monday the measure, which has drawn bipartisan support in Albany, could be included in the final agreement.
"I think that's in a good place," Heastie said.
Lawmakers this year sought the money in the budget after federal aid approved during the COVID-19 pandemic ended. Budget proposals from the state Assembly and state Senate in March called for $280 million in funding to provide free meals to students.
Supporters of the funding proposal have estimated about 800,000 students in New York schools would benefit from the proposal.
Since the pandemic aid concluded for the universal meal program, some students have struggled to pay for food while in school, said Assemblymember Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, who has sponsored the proposal.
The federal program provided free breakfast and lunch for all students, regardless of their families' income.
"When this ended, school debt has increased,” she said. “We know there’s a lot of stigma and shame for young people that often can’t make ends meet, whose families can’t make ends meet and we know this would save more than $140 per child a month for families in food costs.”
The measure has drawn Republican support over the last several months in Albany, a rare bipartisan note during the otherwise contentious budget negotiations.
"It's widely popular, it's bipartisan," Gonzalez-Rojas said.