End of nationwide federal free lunch program has some states scrambling

Apples and orange slices are a healthy choice for student lunch at the Albert D. Lawton Intermediate School, in Essex Junction, Vt., on June 9, 2022. The pandemic-era federal aid that made school meals available for free to all public school students ended Sept. 30, raising concerns about the effects in the upcoming school year for families already struggling with rising food and fuel costs.

The federal government provided free lunch to all 50.6 million public school pupils nationwide during the height of the outbreak. Numerous families, school districts, and lawmakers are trying to deal with the extra financial load after that program’s expiration on September 30.
In 2021, California and Maine implemented laws assuring that all pupils received free school lunches since they anticipated the situation. Colorado and eight other states are currently working to follow suit. The program has been extended in two more states through the conclusion of the current academic year, but no additional legislation is currently being considered in those states.
“It’s difficult to give a precise number [on how many families will be affected],” said Krista Ruffini, an assistant professor at Georgetown University who specializes in government policies that affect labor market, education, and health outcomes. “But before the pandemic, about 25% of students were attending a school that offered schoolwide free meals through the Community Eligibility Provision or related programs.”
It follows that many families across the country will probably have to start paying for school lunches once more.
In order for voters to determine whether to reinstate universal free school lunch, a coalition of parents, teachers, and anti-hunger activists in Colorado campaigned with legislators to get the Healthy School Meals for All initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot.
GlendaRika Garcia, a mother who works with Hunger Free Colorado to help people get food assistance, thinks it’s a problem with education.

GlendaRika Garcia, a mother in Westminster, Colo., with her sons, Pedro, Alonzo and Mauricio. Garcia, a bilingual food assistance aid for Hunger Free Colorado, backs the ballot measure. She said if it passes it would ease some financial pressure on families who struggle with food insecurity but don’t qualify for free school meals.

“I think that the kids being able to eat for free at school is really important, for all families, all kids,” said Garcia, a widow and a single mom of four boys. “Kids can’t learn if they don’t have good nutrition.”
If Colorado voters pass Prop FF, it will establish a program that would provide free meals to all children attending public schools and aid in covering their costs. Additionally, it would pay for wage increases for front-line cafeteria staff, assisting schools who are experiencing a staffing shortfall. Additionally, the proposal would encourage Colorado product purchases by schools by offering grants to do so.
“I was a recipient of free school lunch when I was younger,” Garcia said, “and oftentimes, before my mom even qualified for that, we didn’t have enough for lunch.”
According to Ruffini, families with incomes slightly above the threshold for free or reduced-price school meals who aren’t enrolled in a Community Eligibility Provision school are likely the most vulnerable category. Students whose families make more than 185% of the federal poverty level must pay the entire cost of school meals, which is roughly $42,600 for a single parent with two children or $51,300 for a family of four. Garcia occasionally qualified and occasionally didn’t, which hurt her finances.
“A lot of times, it’s a financial burden for the parents,” she said.
Garcia also mentioned the issue of some pupils bullying others because they receive a free lunch. She experienced it as a child, and one of her sons also experienced it.
“They know that people can identify if they can’t afford it. It hurts my heart,” she said.
Alonzo, her son, claimed that some high school kids avoid the cafeteria rather than admit they are eligible for free meals.
“I think that they get embarrassed because they can’t afford it,” he said.
Similar to Colorado, other states have recognized the issue and are attempting to address it.
Universal free school lunch has been extended by Massachusetts, Vermont, and Nevada through the 2022–2023 academic year, however neither Vermont nor Nevada has put out any legislation to make it a permanent policy.
Similar to what Colorado is attempting, measures making universal free school lunches permanent were enacted in Maine and California in 2021. The two policies went into effect this academic year.

Los Angeles Unified School District food service workers pre-package hundreds of free school lunches in plastic bags at the Liechty Middle School in Los Angeles, Calif., on July 15, 2021. That year, California launched the nation’s largest statewide universal free lunch program, regardless of family income, with 6.2 million public school students now eligible to receive free school meals.

For the 2022–2023 school year, California will sustain and pay its universal free school meals program with $650 million from its state budget. The anticipated annual cost of Maine’s program by lawmakers is $34 million.
Similar efforts are being made by other states.
Similar measures to the one on the Colorado ballot were presented in Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, the majority of them during the current legislative session. They are all still in committee and haven’t been put to a vote yet. The only state to place the issue on the ballot is Colorado.
Some governments are making an effort to guarantee that students have access to free lunches, but most states are not.
In Colorado, regardless of whether the idea is approved, low-income children will continue to receive free lunches. Prop FF has no organized opposition, but that doesn’t mean that no one is against it.
“Nobody wants to be evil enough to say it, but this is a really stupid idea,” said Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank. “Most kids in Colorado do not need this. And in fact, those who do, already have this.”
Voting against is advised by the group’s voter’s guide.
The Colorado proposition, if approved, would raise $100 million annually by raising the state’s taxable income, but only for the 3% or 4% of residents who earn at least $300,000 annually.
“This proposal is, ‘Hey, let’s get the rich guys to buy our kids lunch,’ ” Caldara said. “This is another expansion of state bureaucracy that is just not necessary.”
Cost concerns may be adding to the resistance to a national free lunch program. The USDA has spent $30 billion since 2020 on the program of subsidised meals for everyone, $11 billion more than it would typically spend on its income-based school lunch program, according to Boston NPR affiliate WBUR.
Universal free school lunches appear to be popular across the country, despite cost-related objections.
Progressive polling company Data For Progress revealed that 74% of Americans favor making universal free school lunches a permanent federal policy.
An additional survey conducted in June 2022 by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank specializing in social and economic research, indicated that 67% of adults who did not live with children in public school and 76% of adults who do supported permanent free school meals.


by: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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100% Data Tampering