As school lunch waivers expire, school officials encourage more applications
After a federal waiver that provided free school meals to students across the country for two years regardless of income ended June 30, school officials are encouraging low-income families to submit free and reduced lunch applications by the second week in August or they will have to pay full price for the meals.
Jenny Newton, child nutrition supervisor for Hartselle City Schools said applying helps families that qualify receive free or reduced breakfast and lunch meals all school year.
“This application also helps our schools receive Title I funding and can help us qualify for additional grant funding,” Newton said, adding 150 families have already applied.
“This is great for the application being open just a few days. In a typical year we will have over 1,000 families fill out a free and reduced meals application,” Newton said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Newton said 31 percent of Hartselle’s student population qualified for free or reduced lunch.
Julie Bone, child nutrition program director for Morgan County Schools said 40 percent of the student population comes from low-income families. She said she encourages all parents to fill out the applications, even if they get denied.
“It’s so important that everyone fills it out that possibly can whether you think you will be eligible for it or not,” Bone said. “That number (of applicants) still helps our system because it’s giving a better description of the population that we actually serve.”
On June 25, Congress passed the Keep Kids Fed Act that will provide schools with extra resources like federal reimbursements and extending waivers that finance summer meal programs regardless of income. Under the law, however, families will need to apply for subsidized meals by providing financial information to the district, and may have to pay a reduced price for lunches when they received free meals in the past.
“In my eyes, the bill did not pass as many things as we would like for it to have, but it is going to allow for things that we are still struggling with and that is getting certain foods in and allowing us to have some flexibility with that,” Bone said.
Along with the federal waiver ending, food costs continue to rise across the nation and Morgan County Schools have had to omit certain food items from their menus as a result.
“There are things that have doubled in price, but there are also things that have tripled and there’s some that have almost quadrupled in price since two-and-a-half years ago,” Bone said. “We’ve had to take some things off our menu, like chicken wings, because we just flat out can’t afford to keep purchasing things that high of a price.”
Hartselle City has not omitted menu items, but has looked for ways to save money while still serving quality meals, Newton said.
“This past year we have definitely seen a rising cost in food. We have received a supply chain disruption grant to help us with those costs,” she said. “We also take advantage of the farm to school incentive program where we can receive local produce at a reduced rate. We continually look for additional grants to help keep the cost of food down for our students but still serve quality meals.”
The free and reduced application is now available to fill out for the upcoming school year online at www.hartselletigers.org under the For Parents tab. The application is available online in English and Spanish. Paper applications are also available in the front office at each school.
Morgan County families can apply for free or reduced cost meals by by visiting family.titank12.com.
Wes Tomlinson contributed to this report.