NEW YORK – Half of New York City public school parents say they have skipped or reduced their family’s meals as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and even more parents are concerned about their child’s food access when school begins, according to a new poll commissioned by The Education Trust–New York – even as New York City leaders have quickly scaled and implemented a massive effort since March to get food to New Yorkers in need.
These staggering statistics underscore the need for city leaders to continue these efforts and to prioritize food access for children this fall. Community Food Advocates, The Education Trust–New York, Hunger Free America, and United Way of New York City today called on City leaders to describe the school meal distribution plan for New York City’s 1.1 million students and ensure robust outreach and communication so parents understand how they will be able to consistently and securely access food for their children this school year.
In calling for a citywide effort to ensure that students from low-income backgrounds receive food while they are learning remotely as a result of the pandemic, education and anti-hunger advocates recognized the important steps New York City leaders have already taken to improve food security during the pandemic as well as the significant unmet need among public school students in the city.
“Over the past few months, the City launched massive, effective efforts to stem the city’s hunger,” said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America. “While some may now want to declare ‘mission accomplished’ on the hunger front, this new data proves that we will have staggering levels of child hunger in New York City. Hungry children can’t learn. That why education and anti-hunger groups agree the City needs a comprehensive plan to deal with this crisis going forward.”
“We look forward to collaborating with the City and partners to address the ongoing needs of students and families in our city around food access.” said Sheena Wright, President and CEO of United Way of New York City, “While federal level advocacy continues to be important on this, parents need to know that we will continue to ensure equitable access to meals, so that students can focus on learning.”
“The Department of Education has a comprehensive school meals plan for students for when they are learning in the classroom or remotely.” said Liz Accles, Executive Director of Community Food Advocates. “In these anxious and uncertain times, it is essential to ensure every parent knows exactly how to secure school meals for their children. The Mayor must also build on the City’s highly effective COVID food response and ensure adults continue to have easy access to meals. When children or adults don’t have reliable access to food it impacts everyone in the household.”
“The pandemic has worsened the existing inequities in our education system and broader society, including staggering food insecurity for children and families,” said Ian Rosenblum, Executive Director of The Education Trust–New York. “New York City has taken ambitious and effective steps to address hunger since the beginning of the pandemic, and the city can build on them this fall to ensure that students from low-income backgrounds receive food whether they are learning in-person or remotely.”
The four anti-hunger and education organizations call on city leaders to share how the school meal distribution plan for each community school district for the fall will distribute meals to families from low-income backgrounds and address needs that were highlighted in the poll, including:
- How families will be informed, in their home language, about ways to access school meals this fall, including the additional support available if they are not able to pick up meals at a designated school site.
- How breakfast and lunch will be distributed to students who are not attending school in-person either because they are participating in blended learning or fully remote learning – including both through grab-and-go meals at schools and other sites and, for families who are not able to pick up meals, alternative distribution and partnerships with community-based organizations.
- How the nutrition needs of families who have been most impacted by the pandemic will be prioritized – particularly Black, Latinx, and low-income families who are experiencing food insecurity at disproportionate rates – including incorporating the most food insecure students, including all students in temporary housing, in the City’s existing meal delivery program.
- A commitment to full transparency by providing monthly data, disaggregated by community school district and by race/ethnicity, income, and housing status, so the public, advocates and community-based organizations can see whether school meal distribution targets are being met and support families with referrals to city resources
Advocates note the poll findings also highlight the need for continued access to affordable and no-cost meals for parents and caregivers, so that school meals can go directly to the hands of students.
In addition, the city should continue and expand its outreach and education on food support programs, including Pandemic EBT if extended by Congress. While the most direct way to address food insecurity among students is by extending the federal Pandemic EBT, or P-EBT, initiative that provides all eligible families with food purchasing dollars, the U.S. Senate has not yet acted on this vital support and New York City students and families cannot wait for the federal government.
According to the new polling data released by The Education Trust–New York and conducted by Global Strategy Group, the proportion of parents experiencing food insecurity in New York City outpaced the rest of the state, with 39% of parents statewide saying they have skipped meals or reduced the number of meals they consume personally or reduced/skipped their child’s meals, up from 33% in June. Nearly half (48%) of low-income parents in the state say they are concerned about access to meals and food for their child this fall (43% overall), as are 51% of elementary school parents statewide and 62% of parents in New York City.