Key Takeaways
  • During the pandemic, the Universal Free Meals helped ensure kids would not go hungry at school and were given free meals.
  • However, this program has since been removed, leaving 10 million children wondering how they can access lunch at school.
  • Fortunately, a similar program has been implemented, which allows families that once qualified for reduced-price meals to now be eligible for free ones.
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During the pandemic era, students were provided free school lunches to ensure they did not go hungry. However, as pandemic restrictions have begun easing up, the Universal Free Meals program has ended, which has left many students and families wondering how they can receive access to meals while at school. 

 

What was the Universal Free Lunch Program?


The Universal Free Lunch Program was a national school lunch program that was set up to provide food service for free to students. Typically, these types of programs had some form of paperwork involved, and families whose income was 130% or less than the poverty line would then be eligible for free meals


However, as the pandemic brought forth unprecedented times, school administrators decided to waive the paperwork associated with lunch programs. This program aimed to ensure that students could receive free food for the entire year regardless of income, so they would not go hungry or face any other food insecurities while at school.


Why the Universal Free Lunch Program is Ending


During the pandemic, the federal government spent a larger amount than before on keeping the economy going. Since the worst days of the pandemic are slowly coming to an end, this has led to them analyzing their federal budget and determining where they can cut costs. Unfortunately, one of the programs they decided to cut funding for was the Universal Free Lunch Program.

 

school lunch

Image Credit: Fer Gregory /  Shutterstock.com

 

The removal of the free lunch program has created a lot of concern, as many students in public school districts relied on this program to receive a meal. It is estimated that roughly 10 million students will be negatively impacted as they will not be able to receive access to lunch anymore.


A compromise was made within Congress to ensure students do not go hungry during the summer and the upcoming school year, leading to a new school meals program being implemented. 

 

Details of the New Lunch Program


Although the Universal Free Lunch Program was set to expire on June 30, 2022, a new program will aim to take its place. The new program is the “Kids Fed Act,” which was signed into law by President Joe Biden. This new act will ensure that summer meal programs continue until September 30, 2022.


Also, the child nutrition programs will continue until June 30, 2023. These programs will cost around $3 billion, and many experts believe this program will help provide children with school meals. In addition to this new program, those families who once qualified for the reduced lunch option will now be eligible for free meals. 


Benefits of the New Program


The main benefit of the new program is children will continue getting access to meals during school time. The pandemic and its aftermath have caused tough financial times for many families. As 10 million children rely on school lunch programs, this program ensures those children who previously relied on the Universal Free Lunch program can still receive access to food during school hours.

 

cafeteria food

Image Credit: Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com

 

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Previous school lunch programs had a three-tier system, where families whose income was less than 130% of the poverty line would not pay, and those between 130% and 185% would receive reduced prices. However, to help reduce the financial burden of families, the new program allows those who once qualified for reduced prices to now also receive free meals.


Cons of the New Program


One issue to consider is the program's exposure to the public. As mentioned earlier, the program is to help families and students receive access to meals, so they do not go hungry. 


As many families are still financially recovering from the pandemic and the rising cost of living, the latest legislation mentioned that those who used to qualify for reduced lunch prices may now be eligible to receive access to the program for free.


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However, this part of the program has not been covered by the media extensively, meaning some families who may now qualify for free school meals are unaware of this change and may miss out on this valuable opportunity. If you know someone who qualifies for free lunches, contact them about this change in the program as it may financially benefit them. Let your family and friends know to visit the United States Department of Agriculture website to find out more information about the program.

 

How to Sign up for the New Program

 

For your children to receive access to free or reduced-price meals, you must fill out the necessary paperwork provided by their school. These forms will determine whether or not you will qualify for the reduced-priced or free meals based on your income level. Therefore, during the upcoming school year, inquire about when you will receive the necessary paperwork to ensure your children will be receiving school meals at a lower cost than before. 
 

Students eating

Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

 

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The Money Wrap-Up

 

The United States federal government stepped up to ensure kids didn't go hungry during the pandemic. As this new program aims to provide a similar service to its predecessor, it will allow most kids to continue receiving free meals. If you want your child to be a part of this program, inquire about it at their school or visit the United States Department of Agriculture website to see how you can sign up.

 

Main Image Credit: SpeedKingz / Shutterstock.com

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