New York State

Poll: Broad support for universal free school meals, higher food stamp benefits

Siena College found that strong majorities backed these anti-hunger measures to be considered by the state Legislature.

New polling indicates support for a universal school meal program statewide.

New polling indicates support for a universal school meal program statewide. Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images

Recent polling from Siena College found widespread support for using state funding to expand free school meals to all students, paying tipped workers at or above the regular minimum wage and increasing food stamp benefits. The issues polled each have corresponding legislation and could come up during state budget negotiations that will begin early next year.

According to the polling, commissioned by the anti-hunger group Feeding New York State, 77% of New Yorkers supported providing free breakfast and lunch at all public schools across the state, regardless of household income. The overwhelming support held true across party lines, ideology, geography, race and age, including 63% of Republicans surveyed. The state budget last year expanded free school meals to more schools through a new subsidy, but it did not fund the universal program. Advocates are pushing for pending state legislation that would create a universal school meal program.

Lawmakers in the past year have approved similar legislation in states like Vermont and Massachusetts, which both made permanent pandemic-era meal programs over the summer. New York similarly expanded free school meals during the pandemic with the assistance of federal dollars, but the program expired last year.

The Siena poll also gauged support for boosting pay for tipped service workers. The proposal had even greater support, with 80% of those polled saying they agreed with the idea of paying tipped workers at or above the regular minimum wage. The minimum wage in New York City, Westchester County and on Long Island is $15 an hour, and $14.20 an hour in the rest of the state. The minimum wage is set to increase again on Jan. 1 to $16 downstate and $15 in the rest of the state. But tipped restaurant workers receive a subminimum wage with the expectation that tips would fill the gap, and there’s also a requirement that employers make up any difference if tips fall short of that lower minimum wage. So-called One Fair Wage legislation exists at the state level to eliminate the tipped minimum wage.

“This poll demonstrates the diverse and broad support for policies aimed at addressing food insecurity in our state,” Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas, the sponsor of both the universal school meals and tipped minimum wage bills, said in a statement. “New Yorkers’ call for elected officials to address hunger has bipartisan support across the state. It’s time that we take it seriously and act on these issues during next year’s state budget cycle.”

The final issue polled by Siena could also come up during budget negotiations next year. The survey found that 66% of New Yorkers supported increasing food stamp minimum benefits from $23 a month to $100 a month – a lower percentage of support than the other two proposals but still a strong majority. It had the least support among Republicans, with only 47% of those polled supporting the measure and 41% opposing it. New Jersey recently approved a bill that would increase food stamp benefits to $95. González-Rojas introduced similar legislation earlier this year that would also use state funds to supplement federal food stamp benefits up to $95 as well.