USDA Food and Nutrition Service adds application requirement for reduced or free school meals

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  • Aniya Faulcon

Jianan Liu / NPR

This illustration shows an application for school lunch

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Airdate: Friday, September 16, 2022

The Universal School Meals Program Act was passed last year to ensure that every child had free lunch regardless of income, as the pandemic brought more food insecurity to homes, but the program was cut when Congress reduced pandemic-era spending in the 2022 budget.

Congress did not extend United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service authority to allow all students to eat school meals free of charge this school year, a choice that will effect around ten million children this school year, according to Forbes.

Dr. Patty Bennett, Regional Administrator for the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, said students will receive free or reduced school meals there’s just one additional step that is returning this year, submitting an application.

“I would say it’s a little bit more work for families,” Bennet said. “However, this isn’t completely new because we did have this process before the pandemic and the school districts are here to support parents.”

Last Friday Governor Tom Wolf announced his over $21 million dollar plan to provide universal free school breakfast for 1.7 million students across the commonwealth this school year. Bennet said, the USDA is thrilled about this but families will still need to submit applications for school lunch.

Bennet said, households of four making $36,075 or less are eligible to receive free school meals and households of four making $51,338 children will be eligible for reduced school meals.

“How do we expect children to think, pay attention, and interact with each other if they don’t have the right number of calories and the right type of calories?,” Bennet said. “…I can’t imagine how children can process if their bellies are empty and really the only thing that their focusing on is needing to get a meal. We want children to be focused on the school work in front of them, their teachers, interacting with their classmates.”

Bennet also said, applications for free and reduced school meals can be submitted at anytime throughout the school year and to reach out to your local school district for more information on the application process.

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