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Free School Meal Program Ends for Millions

Specialty Food Association

Nearly 30 million students that received free school meals during the COVID pandemic have received expiration wavers, meaning their families now earn just above the income threshold to continue receiving services, reports The New York Times. The program cessation comes as inflation hits record highs.

“It’s just making things a hell of a lot harder at the most difficult moment that I think American families have seen in a generation,” said Keri Rodrigues, co-founder and president of the National Parents Union network.

From the 2019-2020 school year to the current school year, the eligibility for free and reduced-price meals has increased by 7.8 percent. Consumer prices, however, have risen by 15.4 percent and food prices by 20.2 percent, surpassing the aforementioned eligibility increase as well as the wage growth at the time of 15.1 percent. This means that fewer families are able to reap the benefits despite requiring assistance.

“The income eligibility guidelines are just not keeping pace with inflation, and families are barely making ends meet. So what we’re seeing is a lot of people are saying, ‘I can’t believe I don’t qualify as I always did.’ If they are making a dollar more, or whatever, that will do it,” said Gay Anderson, nutrition director of the Sioux Falls School District.

The pandemic program’s end has led fewer schools to participate in the program: around 88 percent of public schools are continuing the program this school year compared to 94 percent last school year. Full Story (Subscription Required)

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