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Here’s why school districts aren’t offering free meals to all kids this year

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A federal program that funded free school meals for students regardless of income has ended this year, meaning families may have to apply for free or reduced-cost lunches.

The Child Nutrition Program waivers, a Biden-Harris effort to help families during the pandemic, were extended through June 30 of this year before expiring. Still, its end comes as many families are continuing to struggle.

“Inflation is at a 40 year high. And at the same time, there are many families who still haven’t recovered from the pandemic. So with the rising costs of food, fuel and other necessities, many parents are having a hard time paying their bills and feeding their families,” Mia Medina, a program manager for No Kid Hungry Texas, said.

Medina said parents may not know about the change, but will need to check with their children’s school district before the year starts. You can find the process for your child’s school district here.

“We are anticipating many families will rely on school meals this year and we are here to support them,” said Linley Danner, interim director of food service and warehouse operations at Austin Independent School District food service. “Prior to the pandemic, food insecurity affected one in five children in Austin; COVID-19 and the recent increase in costs of good has only amplified the need for access to healthy food.”

Medina said for many kids, food at school is the only place children get nutritionally-balanced meals. They also allow students to participate in the social aspect of lunchtime, she said.

No Kid Hungry Texas hopes parents will put this on their back-to-school checklist.

“In addition to ensuring that your kids may get access to these free meals, they also help to qualify for families for additional benefits, like discounted exam fees, or discounted fees to college application, extracurricular scholarship opportunities,” Medina explained.

Danner said unlike last year, AISD will not have to make alterations to its menu this year. Last year supply chain issues and staffing shortages forced changes. They are, however, still trying to hire around 50 food service employees. Starting pay for the position has been bumped to $16 an hour. You can apply online.

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