New York City Voters Overwhelmingly Support Free School Lunch in Public Schools

Universal Free School Lunch seen by voters as a top priority for improving student health and academic performance and achieving greater equity in NYC

Barbara Brancaccio, Global Strategy Group, 212-260-8813

Stephany Fong, NYHealth                                                                                  

Universal Free School Lunch seen by voters as a top priority for improving student health and academic performance and achieving greater equity in NYC

New York, NY – April 18, 2017 – 82% of New Yorkers support Universal Free School Lunch, according to a poll of New York City voters released today by the New York Health Foundation (NYHealth). Providing free lunch to all public school students, regardless of socio-economic status, receives strong backing by likely voters surveyed in all five boroughs, across income and race, and among individuals with and without school-aged children.

“Eliminating school lunch fees will mean that all kids in New York City public schools, regardless of income, can eat a healthy lunch without fear of stigma and bullying,” said David Sandman, Ph.D., President and CEO of NYHealth. “A hungry child is a stark symbol of inequality in New York, and hunger prevents learning and healthy development. New Yorkers overwhelmingly agree that it should be a top priority for the city to implement universal free school lunch and close the education inequality gap.”

The New York City Council has championed and prioritized Universal Free School Lunch for the 2018 budget, despite its exclusion from Mayor de Blasio’s Preliminary Budget. As legislators debate the city’s budget in the weeks ahead, a strong majority of voters (74%) believe that Mayor de Blasio needs to do more to close the education inequality gap and that Universal Free School Lunch is an important tool to address this issue. New Yorkers are convinced that a free lunch program for all students from families of all income levels can improve children’s physical and emotional health (88%), reduce stigma (79%), and positively impact academic performance and success for all students (86%).

Support for Universal Free School Lunch is intense among NYC voters. The survey reveals that New Yorkers view implementing Universal Free School Lunch as a critical issue. It is aligned in level of priority with such high-profile issues as affordable housing for seniors, opening new shelters to address homelessness, and ensuring body cameras for all police officers.

Voters view universal free school lunch as matter of equity. Nine in ten (89%) believe that free lunch in public schools will provide significant financial relief to families in need.

“Implementing universal free school lunch is the single best starting point to ensure that more kids are eating lunch,” said Liz Accles, Executive Director of Community Food Advocates. “Data from the City Department of Education show a striking difference in the percentages of children who eat lunch in those pilot schools that have universal lunch and those that do not.”

“New York City voters recognize this is something that benefits children, families, and the city as a whole, and we should start the next school year off with free school lunch for all New York City public school students,” said Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers.


There is overwhelming support for universal free school lunch.
• General election voters: 82% support
• Democratic primary voters: 85% support

Voters are more inclined to support a candidate for mayor who will provide free school lunch.
• General election voters: 66% more likely
• Democratic primary voters: 69% more likely

Universal Free School Lunch is viewed as a priority (72%) on par with other important key issues.
• Opening shelters to address homelessness: 68% general election voters
• Implementing body cameras for police officers: 73% general election voters
• Providing affordable senior housing: 83% general election voters

Voters believe Universal Free School Lunch is a very important part of achieving the Mayor’s social and economic equality agenda.
• Closes the economic gap for working families: 79% general election voters
• Closes the educational divide: 73% general election voters

Voters agree that improving student health and academic performance are strong reasons to provide Universal Free School Lunch.
• Improving students’ physical health: 88% general election voters
• Advancing students’ emotional wellbeing: 86% general election voters
• Enhancing students’ academic performance and graduation rates: 86% general election voters

View the survey results.

Currently in the New York City public school system, 582 elementary, middle and high schools offer a free lunch program for all of its students, regardless of family income, and approximately 1,200 schools do not.

Universal Free School Lunch expands this critical benefit to all families with children in public schools throughout New York City, including those who do not qualify for the traditional free or reduced-price lunch program, but cannot afford the lunch fees; and ensures that food is fully accessible to all children from all socio-economic backgrounds.

The program encourages greater participation in lunch among students and eliminates the well-documented poverty stigma associated with the program. It also provides necessary food during the school day, which improves children’s mental, emotional, and physical health, as well as their academic performance and success.

Universal Free School Lunch is funded through the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas. CEP allows the nation’s highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students. Instead, school districts that adopt CEP are reimbursed using a formula based on the percentage of students participating in other specific means-tested programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Federal and state reimbursements cover over 90% of the total lunch costs.

The New York Health Foundation (NYHealth) is a private, statewide foundation dedicated to improving the health of all New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable. Today, NYHealth concentrates its work in two strategic priority areas: building healthy communities and empowering health care consumers. The Foundation is committed to making grants, informing health policy and practice, spreading effective programs to improve the health care system and the health of New Yorkers, serving as a neutral convener of health leaders across the State, and providing technical assistance to its grantees and partners. Find NYHealth online at and on Twitter at @NYHFoundation.

Global Strategy Group conducted a survey on April 3-6, 2017 with 600 likely 2017 general election voters and 414 likely 2017 Democratic primary voters in New York City. The geographic and demographic divisions of the expected electorate are properly represented based on past voter turnout statistics. The results have a margin of error of +/-4.0% for General Election voters and +/-4.9% for Democratic Primary voters.