School lunch

Bulletin file photo During the last two school years, school lunches and breakfasts were provided free of charge to every student as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program to ensure students had meals during the pandemic. That program will not continue in the 2022-23 school year, meaning families that may be eligble for free or reduced meals will need to complete the application to qualify for the program.

Most students in Johnson County will have to resume paying for school breakfast and lunch in the 2022-23 school year because the federal waiver that has made those meals free for all students over the past two years is likely coming to an end. 

“The waivers are, as of now, going to be gone the end of June,” said Ricci Sanders, district nutrition services director. 

This means that, starting July 1, the district will need to have families resume applying for free and reduced meals. 

The waivers were provided to school districts nationwide over the last two school years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The waivers allowed the districts to offer free and reduced breakfast and lunch during the school year, something typically only offered during the summer months. 

Because the free breakfasts and lunches are coming to an end, Sanders said that families who have students that qualify for free or reduced meals will need to submit an application after July 1 and before the start of the 2022-23 school year. 

Sanders said that it’s especially crucial that families apply quickly during the school year if they have a change in their life situation — such as a parent losing a job — so that their students can receive cheaper, or free meals, if they qualify. 

The qualification process for free and reduced meals is decided based on family size and income. For example, a family of four would have qualified for free and reduced meals during the current school year if the household’s total income was $49,025 or less. 

Households receiving benefits from SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations also qualify for free meals. 

To apply for free or reduced meals, Sanders said that parents should visit family.titank12.com or pick up a paper application at the front desk of any school in the district. 

She said the application process is confidential — she is the only person who ever sees the applications — and that a student’s meal payment status is never shared, even with principals or other district administrators. 

“So, really, unless kids tell people, ‘I get meals free,’ other kids don’t know,” Sanders said. 

The likely end of the waivers also means that Johnson County School District No. 1 will have to find between $180,000 and $200,000 to add to the district budget to cover many of the costs that had been covered the past two years by the USDA. 

Superintendent Charles Auzqui said those costs are largely to support salaries and benefits for food service workers. 

Both he and Sanders expressed concern that costs could increase because food- and food-service-related supplies have increased in price in recent months. The availability of certain food items during the year has also gotten spottier. 

“It is hard to get some of our things, like today’s menu was supposed to be chicken fried steak – we can’t get them,” Sanders said. “That’s a commodity item that we have been promised, and we can’t get it, so we just had to change it.” 

Sanders and Auzqui said that despite the increasing prices of food and supplies, the district has no plans at this time to raise the prices for either breakfast or lunch during the 2022-23 school year. 

This means that prices will remain at $1.50 for breakfast, $2.75 for elementary school lunch, $3 for middle school lunch and $3.25 for high school lunch. 

 

 

Ryan Hanrahan joined the Bulletin in October 2020 and covers schools, agriculture and county government. If you have ideas or feedback, reach out at ryan@buffalobulletin.com.

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