NYC Council Plan Guarantees Eye Care for Low Income Residents

A new bill from the New York City Council would establish a unique program to provide free eye exams and glasses to low-income New Yorkers. The proposal, estimated to affect 1.2 million New Yorkers, will be introduced by Council Member Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn).

“Basic eye care is a fundamental need, not a luxury,” Brannan said in a statement to The North Star. “The evidence is clear that bad vision leads to poor performance at school and work. So if it goes untreated — which happens often among low-income communities that cannot afford vision care — it can have long-term consequences on a person’s income and quality of life.”

The health department program would cover residents with incomes up to $31,225 for a one-person household and $64,375 for a four-person household, the New York Daily News reported. The cutoffs are based on the 2019 federal poverty level guidelines.

Brannan’s office told the New York Daily News it expects that the proposal will be relatively affordable for the city because it could be integrated into existing services provided by the health department and public hospitals. His office added that New York City could also have an outside organization run the program.

“Ensuring that every New Yorker has the prescription eyeglasses they need is a simple and instant safeguard against poverty,” Brannan said in a statement. “In the greatest city in the world, no person should be too poor to see.”

New York City already has a partnership in place with the eyewear retailer Warby Parker. In January, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an expansion of the 2015 partnership to provide glasses to every kindergartner and first-grader in need, NYC Patch reported.

Warby Parker’s Pupils Project partnered with the City of New York, the NYC Department of Education’s Office of Community Schools, and the Office of School Health in 2015 to “provide free vision screenings, eye exams, and glasses to students enrolled in NYC Community Schools.” The following year, the company launched a three-year partnership with the City of Baltimore to provide similar services.

In October 2018, Warby Parker released a collection of five eyeglasses and five sunglasses, designed by famous New Yorkers, that would benefit the Pupils Project. The collection includes designs from Rosario Dawson, Lena Dunham, Fran Lebowitz, Humberto Leon, Mary-Louise Parker, Chloë Sevigny, Gloria Steinem, Michael K. Williams, Nikolai Fraiture, and Iman.

The company also announced that 100 percent of the sales of each of the 10 glasses would be directed to its Pupils Project. According to Warby Parker’s website, the project has screened more than 220,000 children, administered more than 64,000 eye exams, and provided more than 54,000 prescription glasses.

“There’s nothing like watching these students, many of whom are getting their first pair of glasses, finally see the board clearly,” Warby Parker Co-CEO David Gilboa told Vogue.

The NYC partnership, which by January had served more than 100,000 students, was set to expand and cover the entire city. An estimated 33,000 children were expected to receive free glasses and over 140,000 to be given free eye exams from the city’s Department of Health, the mayor’s office told NYC Patch.

De Blasio’s office said that despite about a quarter of the city’s students needing glasses, just 5 percent of those in need actually receive them.

A 2018 report by the American Optometric Association (AOA) found that poor vision, without treatment, can negatively affect children’s development and educational performance. Throughout the US, one in five preschoolers have vision problems, and by the time they start school, one in four will need or wear eyeglasses, the report found.

Unaddressed vision issues can hinder children’s academic progress, studies found. Unfortunately, children often do not report their poor vision, and subpar vision screenings provided by schools can miss up to 75 percent of children’s vision problems.

“Kids don’t know what their vision is supposed to look like,” Michael Earley, OD, PhD, and associate dean of academic affairs at The Ohio State University, said in a statement to AOA. “A lot of parents think if there’s something wrong with their eyes, the child will say something or a pediatrician will catch it, but that’s just not the case.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.