Cuomo Signs Legislation Prohibiting Schools from Filing Lawsuits Against Unpaid Meal Fees

J.M. Lesinski
Photo by J.M. Lesinski

In a time of recovery when proper nourishment for New York state students should be at the forefront of staying healthy in general, lawmakers in the state’s capital have achieved another step forward in ensuring all school-aged children and teenagers are fed.

New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently signed legislation forbidding schools and school districts from filing lawsuits against parents or guardians for unpaid meal fees, building off his comprehensive "No Student Goes Hungry" program to help students and families from legal action against an inability to pay for a school meal.

"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," Cuomo said of the new legislation. "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."

Back in 2018, New York state took aim to end “meal shaming” in public schools, with the goal to prevent students who have unpaid school meal fees from getting treated differently than those without. With a rise of collection-related cases and lawsuits across school districts around the country regarding meal fees since 2018, this legislation aims to provide more security and protection to students and families who have no other choice than to choose between going hungry or going to court.

"We're committed to providing students with the nutritious food they need in school with our 'No Student Goes Hungry' program," Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul previously noted of meal shaming in New York state. "We will not tolerate meal shaming in New York, and school districts across the state have submitted plans to address the issue. We want to ensure that all children have the resources they need to succeed inside and outside the classroom, and this is another step in our efforts to enhance educational opportunities and quality of life for New York families."

The action taken by Governor Cuomo works hand in hand with the federal government’s commitment to providing vital meals for students across the United States. In line with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) COVID-19 pandemic recovery plan, the USDA has declared that school meals supplied through the National School Lunch Program will be distributed free of charge to all students through June 2022.

"New Yorkers recognize that no child should go to school and worry about being shamed or stigmatized because they can't afford lunch,” New York State Senator Rachel May remarked of the new legislation. “Our laws are among the most progressive in the country in prohibiting meal shaming. Butas we have seen in neighboring states, it is possible for meal shaming to walk out of the classroom and into the courtroom. This law will keep such lawsuits from making their way to New York. I am grateful to the Governor for signing it today, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in next year's budget to help schools ensure every single child eats at school without incurring debt."

With school not too far off in the future, the availability of these lunches is more vital now than ever in assuring students can learn with the assistance of proper nutrition and sustenance.

"Across the country, families are being publicly shamed and sued by schools over unpaid debt caused by nothing more than their children eating a meal,” stated New York State Assembly Member Anna Kelles of the new legislation. “This law will prevent that in New York State. There are other ways to support our schools but shaming children is not one that we as New Yorkers can support. School is and should always be about education and growth. I want to thank the governor for signing this law and standing with our children and their families."

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Professional journalist for over five years, covering topics all up and down both coasts of the United States, including arts, music, food, politics, and culture. I have a B.A. in English from SUNY Fredonia with minors in Psychology and Creative Writing, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from California State University, Fresno.

Buffalo, NY

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