Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued wavers to allow free lunches to all public school students regardless of family income levels, but it isn’t being extended this year.
So, as kids get back into the swing of a new school year, those free lunches may not be a part of it.
“Unfortunately for this school year, Congress has decided that all meals will not be free,” said Jennifer Weber, the Executive Director for Child Nutrition Programs at the Oklahoma State Department of Education. “Parents will need to apply through the free and reduced lunch process at their local district.”
Some Oklahoma parents say this has a huge impact on their families.
“That was one of the saving graces for a lot of parents,” said Dee Arthur, a parent with kids in the Edmond School District.
Arthur said it was also a saving grace for her. She has two kids in the Edmond School District. With them eating breakfast and lunch every day, she said it’s over $250 out of her pocket.
“That’s change-your-lifestyle money,” Arthur said.
Arthur added that she is just on the cusp but doesn’t qualify for the programs. At a time of high inflation, she said it hurts.
“Everyone is hurting right now. Everyone is straining,” she said. “In the end, no kid deserves to go hungry ever.”
According to Arthur, the conversation also goes beyond dollars and cents.
“I think the conversation really needs to be more about if it’s a nonzero number of kids that are going hungry unless they’re getting school lunch and school breakfast,” Arthur said.
“When we have calls with schools, we’ve been telling them that we were transitioning back to normal, transitioning back to normal,” Weber said. “We’ve been saying that since probably February time frame.”
Weber said the USDA issues the requirements for the programs yearly. They’re based on household size and income, and they do change.
For those on the cusp of qualifying though, there isn’t any wiggle room.
“The state doesn’t have the ability to go outside of that income scale,” Weber said. “I don’t believe USDA does either.”
Weber encourages every family to fill out the form because you may be eligible, even if you weren’t in the past.
Any child that receives SNAP benefits, TANF benefits, FDPIR or food distribution on Indian reservation benefits, or is a foster child that hasn’t been adopted yet, will automatically qualify for free meals.