An estimated 81% of New York school children will be able to receive free breakfast and lunch due to combined state and federal aid for food programs, state lawmakers on Thursday said. 

New York's state budget included $134 million for meals, money that Democratic lawmakers said will help supplement the expiration of some federal aid. 

“Free school meals may be the most consequential achievement in the state budget because it helps kids learn and succeed, covers the costs for school districts and local taxpayers, and it will have an immediate impact," said Sen. John Mannion. "Kids can’t learn on empty stomachs or if they face the stigma of needing free meals."

Advocates this year had called for a more expansive amount of funding in order to create a universal school meal program. 

Still, federally funded breakfast and lunch will continue even as pandemic-era aid for a broader program has ended. Mannion pointed to the final budget deal creating a mechanism for schools participating in the federal Community Eligibility Program providing a reimbursement to cover the cost of all meals currently not covered by the federal government. 

At the moment, schools in which 40% of students qualify for free meals qualify for the federal program. With the federal government dropping that qualification to 25%, more schools will be eligible. 

School meal funding had been part of a bipartisan push in Albany this year during the budget debate, with lawmakers pointing to the benefits of ensuring kids aren't hungry while they are in school.

"At the core of a student's academic performance is their wellbeing and that includes access to breakfast and lunch in school," said Assemblyman Al Stirpe. "In this year's budget, the state continues to step up and secured funding to expand access to free school meals for students."

Nevertheless, advocates still want a universal meal program in schools. 

"While we are glad that New York will be expanding access to free school meals, the funding included in this year’s budget still leaves far too many kids hungry and families struggling to make ends meet," said Healthy School Meals for All NY Kids, a coalition of groups backing the plan.