Free school lunches for K-12 students expires this year, but SNAP benefits can help families in need
During COVID schools could serve all kids free meals, regardless of income and parents did not have to apply in order to get free meals, but that option is expiring this school year, according to Virginia Tech expert George Davis, who specializes in food and health economics.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) program will be returning to its pre-pandemic or normal structure, which means parents in general must apply to determine if their kids qualify for free, reduced-price, or paid meals.
“Food price inflation has also reached unprecedented highs over the last year and school cafeterias are not immune to these increases. While some of these increases should be offset by reimbursements that schools receive from the USDA for free and reduced meals, families might be paying more school lunches this year,” said Davis.
“Supply chain issues and labor shortfalls in the supply chain are contributing to overall higher prices but also schools’ abilities to get food items. Thus many schools are having to be creative and flexible with recipes and schedules,” said Davis.
The Biden Administration has been aggressive in trying to counteract these issues by increasing funding for school programs through the Keep Kids Fed Act and the Supply Chain Assistance Funds program in 2022 and 2021. “These two programs have and will help mitigate the supply chain issues and it is not expected that any children would notice the impact of supply chain or labor issues.”
Davis says that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help families in need to ensure children have access to nutritious and healthy meals at school. He says the most direct way is to contact your school to learn about the requirements and how to apply for SNAP benefits. Households that are on SNAP, TANF or FDIPR automatically qualify for free meals.
He also points to a program called “Community Eligible Provision” that will allow kids to get free meals, but not all schools are eligible to participate and it varies by community. Families should contact local schools to see if they are part of that program.
George Davis is a professor of agricultural and applied economics in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. His research into the SNAP program examines the true costs associated with consuming a nutritious diet. Along with other colleagues, he has provided analysis for the Food Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture and have received national recognition among food and health economists for their research.
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