The end of universal free school meals program is the next stress for many parents

But most of these East Hampton parents will have to pack food for their kids or spend hundreds of dollars in the cafeteria this year when the short-term, state-funded extension of the expansion program ends. Almost all new applicants are ineligible for regular federal programs because their incomes are too high, according to Jen Bove, director of food and nutrition services for the school district of 1,900 students.

“If they’re applying, they need it,” Bove said, adding that the program takes into account the debt families may incur if they temporarily lose their jobs during the pandemic. No. “We’re taking it away from free food at a time in my adulthood when free food has never been needed more.”

Compounding the problem is the fact that some school districts have had to increase breakfast and lunch prices this year as they are hit by high food prices, supply chain shortages and rising labor costs. is.

“When children go back to school and no longer get free meals, it will put tremendous financial pressure on already stressed families,” said the Food Research & Action Center. “There will be kids who show up to class hungry.”

Some federal exemptions continue, others do not

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, Congress voted to allow school districts more flexibility to continue serving meals when schools were closed and children were learning remotely. approved a number of exemptions to In addition to being able to provide meals for students to take home, schools received higher federal reimbursement rates, increasing the range of meals schools can provide. Supply chain disruption.

The exemption continued after schools reopened in the last two years, allowing children in quarantine or studying virtually to take-home meals or to be served in classrooms instead of cafeterias. rice field.

About 30 million students received free meals at school, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is up from about 20 million children who were eligible based on household income before the pandemic.

Allowing everyone to eat free in the cafeteria minimized the stigma felt by some children who received free school meals and increased the chances of actually having breakfast and lunch. said the school’s nutrition authority.

However, Congress has extended only some of the flexibility for the 2022-23 school year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to waive penalties for schools that consistently fail to meet federal nutritional requirements because they are unable to order or receive food that meets guidelines.

Districts are also receiving additional funding to cover increased food and labor costs, though not as much as they have been reimbursed since the pandemic began.

But one of the biggest changes is that low-income families will have to reapply for free or discounted meals. Many are automatically qualified when they receive food stamps, but some states require you to complete a form to qualify for Medicaid and others.

For families of three, total annual income must be less than approximately $30,000 to qualify for free meals during this school year and approximately $42,600 to qualify for discounted meals.

Notice to Parents

The school district is trying to tell parents to apply. Most will post the application on their online portal, but you can also print the form and have it mailed home or picked up by a parent.

The Tucson Unified School District, like other school districts across the country, is encouraging parents to apply for free or discounted meals.

Lori Adkins, president of the School Nutrition Association, said many school districts were using social media this year to keep parents informed, post information to Facebook pages, and use other social media apps. said that he is

Families who have recently qualified will be given 30 working days in the first year of the school year to renew their qualification. Otherwise, children will not receive free or discounted meals.

More than 9,000 students in the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona have submitted applications to qualify for free or discounted meals so far this year, said Lindsay Aguilar, director of the district’s food service division. I’m here. But her 1,000-plus children who previously qualified will expire on Sept. 16 if they don’t reapply. (Nearly two-thirds of Tucson schools regularly offer free meals to all students due to high school poverty rates.)

Aguilar said parents have been receiving emails, text messages, and automated phone calls prompting them to apply.

School districts like Oakland County, Michigan, are making greater use of social media to ensure that families sign up for free or discounted meals.

In general, school districts across the country are seeing more applications than they did before the pandemic, said Adkins, who is also a child nutrition consultant for Oakland Schools Middle School District in Michigan. It is too early to say if any families are likely to be left out.

“Every family has competing priorities for their financesSo I don’t want school meals to be unavailable or unattainable,” she said.

family pressure

The expiration date of the waiver is high inflation It’s a burden on the household budget. grocery prices The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed a surge of 13.1% in the 12 months to July.

For Dawn Overmyer, spending $80 a month on school meals for her 5-year-old grandson could delay other bills. Obermeyer, who works in a supermarket warehouse, and her husband have adopted a boy and brother who “love to eat”.

A couple in Montpelier, Indiana were very disappointed to learn that their annual income was $2,000 too high to qualify their grandchildren for free or discounted meals at school.They were already living paycheck to paycheck and Overmyer had to Use her 401(k) retirement account to make ends meet.

“Me and my husband were building a house for our future,” said Overmyer, 54. I’m worried about paying the rent after I retire. ”

Breakfast and lunch are free for kindergarteners and other students for the time being, but the school said it will notify Overmyer when it needs to start paying. But with food prices skyrocketing, sending grandchildren to school with lunch can cost them even more each week.

If children do not participate in the free breakfast and lunch program, they may eat in the cafeteria even if they do not bring food from home and do not have funds in their school lunch account. , and family You will have to settle the balance later.

about 75% of the district unpaid food debt At the end of the 2017-18 academic year, according to Latest information available from the School Nutrition Association. The median is $3,400, up from $2,000 three years ago.

Some states continue to provide free meals in schools using their own funds, FitzSimons said. California and Maine will continue to offer free breakfast and lunch to students, while other states such as Massachusetts, Nevada, and Vermont are offering free breakfast and lunch this school year.

Connecticut provided $30 million to extend the free program. How long he’ll last in the Hamptons will depend on how many students will be attending school lunches this year, but Bove expects his funds to run out around December.

food costs more

Some school districts have had to raise the prices of their meals because the cost of food, supplies and labor has risen.

East Hampton has raised the price of lunch by 50 cents, so students will pay $3.50 to $4 for a hot meal depending on their grades. Breakfast is also more expensive.

According to Adkins, only six of Oakland County’s 28 school districts have raised prices, with an average increase of 15 to 25 cents.

Six of the 28 school districts in Oakland County, Michigan, have increased the price of meals.

Breakfast in Tucson schools is now 25 cents more and lunch is 20 cents more. Kindergarten through fifth grade: $1.50 breakfast, $2.50 lunch; Seniors: $1.75 breakfast, $3 lunch.

Even if federal reimbursement continued at the same high level as last year, Tucson would have had to raise food prices, Aguilar said. Some items have more than doubled their cost.

6-ounce containers used daily for side dishes are 135% more expensive than last year, and salad containers are 116% more expensive. Sliced ​​cheddar cheese is up 57% and whole grain hamburger buns are up 50%. Chicken fajitas are 105% more expensive.

Additionally, the district currently pays a minimum wage of $13.50 to $15 an hour. This has reduced the school’s nutrition staff vacancy rate from 25% last year to 15% of normal, Aguilar said.

Aguilar is still considering school lunches, even though parents have asked about price increases. Good value overall.

“When you think about lunch and breakfast meals, I think our prices are certainly still very reasonable compared to what families see in restaurants and fast food joints,” she said. “But I have no doubt that a quarter or twenty cents will add up.”


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