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Legislation Protects Families From Unpaid School Meal Fees

New legislation will prohibit schools and school districts from filing any type of lawsuit against parents or guardians for unpaid meal fees. The new law builds on measures from the state Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s comprehensive “No Student Goes Hungry” program and helps protect students and families from legal tactics related to their inability to make payments for school meals.

“Taking families to court over unpaid school meals is cruel, draconian, and runs counter to a school’s fundamental mission to ensure the wellbeing of every student,” Governor Cuomo said. “This legislation builds upon this administration’s work to end lunch shaming in New York and makes it clear that no family in need should have to endure a burdensome and costly legal process over their children’s nutritional health.”

In 2018, New York state took action to end “meal shaming” of students in public schools, so that students who may have unpaid school meal fees do not get treated differently than their peers. Since 2018, there have been prominent cases across the country of school districts threatening to file lawsuits or take the families of students with unpaid meal fees to court to collect fees. While infrequent, these incidents are counterproductive to the goal of ending meal shaming and this legislation provides additional protection for students and families who might otherwise be made to choose between going to court or going hungry.

This action will also work in concert with the federal government’s commitment to ensuring that students in the United States receive the vital meals they need to learn and thrive. As part of the recovery from the COVID pandemic, the United States Department of Agriculture has announced that school meals provided through the National School Lunch Program will be provided free of charge to all students through June 2022.

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