Federal aid during the pandemic expanded tax credits for families with young children and provided free breakfast and lunch to students in schools. 

With that aid expired, the state budget could step in to partially fill the void of what advocates have contended were beneficial programs for families struggling with the cost of living. 

As part of the tentative budget agreement announced Thursday by Gov. Kathy Hochul, the state is set to spend $134 million for school meals in high-needs districts. At the same time, the child tax credit in New York will expand to include families with kids under the age of 4. 

A push for universal school meals was made this year, winning the backing of Democrats and Republicans alike in the Legislature. The initial proposal would have included all school kids receiving free breakfast and lunch.

"It’s a great first step toward full funding for universal meals," said New York State PTA Executive Director Kyle Belokopitsky of the announced budget provision. "We really need full universal meals for all of our 2.6 million school children."

The specifics of the agreement announced by Hochul were not spelled out for the meal program and how many schools and kids would ultimately benefit. 

Studies have shown kids perform better in school when they are not hungry and meal debt can be stigmatizing for students from low-income families. 

"There couldn’t be something more simple for the Legislature to get behind than literally the health and walfare and safety of our students," Belokopitsky said. 

The state budget is also set to expand the child tax credit to families with kids under age 4. Rebecca Bailin of the Economic Security Project says it will aid families who are shouldering increasingly high costs like groceries and rent.

"With inflation, with the cost of living – the cost of living was tough even before inflation, especially to raise a family in New York. We’ve seen people leave the state because it’s so hard to afford it here," Bailin said. 

Federal pandemic relief aided families with young kids as the public health crisis left millions of people out of work. 

"The federal expansion of the child tax credit as well as the stimulus checks made an enormous impact," Bailin said. "I think everybody was surprised."

But the specifics of both measures, including how many people will ultimately be affected, remain unclear for now with a tentative agreement, but no bills are expected to be voted until next week. Republican Assemblyman Ed Ra says details are needed.

"Until we start to really see bills and all that we’re not going to know a lot of details of these proposals," Ra said.