North Country Assemblywoman Russell continues call for more state aid for school lunch program
Friday, January 29, 2016 - 9:02 am

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said on Thursday was continuing her call for the state to increase its reimbursement to school lunch programs to aid the local agriculture community.

Appearing at a joint legislative hearing with New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball, she wants the state to increase its school lunch reimbursement formula by 25 cents a meal, from the current 6 cents to 31.

She said the reimbursement rate hasn’t been increased in over 40 years.

“Low meal reimbursement rates put school districts in a difficult position and hinder schools’ abilities to integrate farm-to-school products into their menus,” Russell said, who chairs the state Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy. “The increased rate would provide school districts with the funds necessary to purchase locally grown products.

“It would help schools be able to afford to buy food grown in our own state and would help stimulate our local economy … It would also introduce our students to the value and benefits of locally grown foods. I think we should aim to ensure our children eat local every day.”

Russell says she applauds the agriculture commissioner “for expressing a plan to look at steps that can be taken to help agribusinesses adjust to proposed increases in the state’s minimum wage.”

Ball noted at the hearing the minimum wage proposal wouldn’t be fully implemented until 2021 under Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal, according to Russell.

“He said it would be important to offset those increased labor costs by looking at steps that could be taken to benefit the bottom line in areas such as cuts in property taxes, lower assessments, possible tax credits and opening more profitable markets to hike profits for farmers,” Russell said.

The assemblywoman says farmers in her district pay significant property taxes that support local school districts.

Russell, who has voiced her support for separate minimum wage levels in upstate and downstate, said that tiered system could be critical for local farmers.

“Many of us are concerned about the impact of the minimum wage increase on non-profit agencies. I would hold the farming community in that same realm,” she said.

Russell’s 116th Assembly District includes all St. Lawrence County communities along the St. Lawrence River, plus Canton and Potsdam.