School meals could soon cost you more. The federal program that provided free meals to students across the country during the pandemic is set to expire at the end of this month.
Federal waivers not only provided free meals to all students, but also reimbursed schools at a higher rate per meal. Marshall County Schools said the aid was crucial as inflation raised the price of everything.
“Not only are our food costs going up, but also the cost of our products, like the paper supply, the forks, the napkins, the plates that we actually eat on. So this last school year – the 2021 school year – 2022 – the USDA increased our reimbursement that we receive for each meal, which was able to offset the increased cost of food and supplies,” explained Casey Partain, Child Nutrition Program Supervisor for County Schools by Marshall.
Federal aid is set to expire on June 30, which means school systems won’t be reimbursed as much for their food, even if prices go up.
While the school system hopes the USDA will extend the supplemental reimbursement, the end of federal school meal waivers will actually have no impact on families in Marshall County schools.
Students in the school system will not pay a penny for school meals next year.
“We know firsthand the hardships, what families are going through right now with the rising cost of gas and food, and that’s just one of the ways we’ve seen we can give back to our students. “, Partain said.
Partain has worked hard to provide free meals to the approximately 5,700 students in the school system.
“I try to reduce any waste and make sure we use production records and look at previous weeks to make sure we’re not overproducing food,” Partain said.
Even when federal school meal waivers expire, Marshall County schools will receive free meals through the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), and parents don’t even have to apply. .
“We are entitled to free meals, breakfasts and lunches for all students without any application process,” Partain said.
The school system is eligible for the program because at least 40% of families are eligible for additional government assistance, such as food stamps. By participating in the CEP, families do not have to apply for free or reduced meals, saving the school system a lot of paperwork.
The school system knows that a free lunch can go a long way for families as grocery bills keep mounting.
“Our grocery bill has gone up about 50% every week, and I’m buying the exact same foods. So every time there’s a break that can help a parent provide free meals for their kids, I hope they take advantage of it.” “, Partain said.
About 75% of students enrolled in the Marshall County school system take advantage of the school lunch program. Partain said that percentage had increased since they could offer free meals to everyone.
A group of bipartisan lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a bill to extend federal waivers through the 2022-23 school year. The main difference in the $3 billion package is that families would have to apply to qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Congress has nine days to push the bill through the House and Senate before the federal waiver expires.