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Even though Maine has secured a universal school meal for another year, state nutrition director Jeanne Reilly remains ready to challenge her next school year as her supply chain problems and labor shortages continue.
But Jessica Gould, the director of school nutrition in Colorado, where federal waivers that allow universal meals will end this school year, hopes to meet those challenges and more.
In several states, the momentum has been generated to ensure universal school meals, districts across the nation have benefited from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s pandemic relief authority over the past two years, regardless of income from providing free meals to all students. June 30 is the deadline for Congress to extend the ability of the USDA to extend universal meals and other waiver capacity to support school feeding programs with supply chain problems.
If the exceptions are not followed, families across the nation will have to start paying for breakfast and lunch again if their children do not meet the requirements for free or reduced price meals.
Federal-level solutions are also declining a bipartisan Senate bill to extend this federal authority he made little progress Since it was presented to Congress in March.
Recently, however, the Vermont state legislature he accepted an invoice funding universal school meals for the next school year at a cost of $ 29 million. Colorado, state lawmakers he accepted a measure allowing voters to decide in November whether they want a universal school meal program that will begin in 2023. Also the Massachusetts House of Representatives he approved the budget Including $ 110 million to fund universal school meals for a year, while the state Senate discusses its latest budget proposal.
Meanwhile, California and Tomorrow They were among the first states to pass free statewide school meals in 2021.
Still filling out the paperwork
Although the main school meal in Maine continues, Reilly, the school feeding director of Windham Raymond School District RSU14, said students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals will still have to fill out applications.
Therefore, the state will pay for families who do not meet the requirements, and because the USDA will pay for families who meet the costs, Reilly said, the state needs to know how many students it will have to cover under the new policy.
Reilly has already begun a strategy on how to encourage families to comply with requests when their children receive a free meal anyway next school year. In addition, families have not been asked to comply with requests for free or reduced price meals in the last two years under the federal pandemic exceptions.
“They already know that their kids get a free meal, so the roles don’t become important,” Reilly said. “For us, in order for the funding model to really work and to ensure that the funds that the state has put in the budget last as long as possible, it is essential to get all of these families in the right category.”
Gould, director of food services at Littleton Public Schools in Colorado, is urging families eligible for free and reduced-price meals to begin the application process this school year. Pre-qualified parents will have a 30-day grace period at the beginning of the school year from the time the meal debt arises, he said, if families do not remember to comply with the request on time.
But, Gould said, “It’s not going to be a safe failure.”
Gould is currently working with parents and principals to inform new families in the neighborhood, especially about the free and discounted meal program.
Rising meal prices
To keep up with inflation and rising food costs, Gould expects prices to rise by 50 to 75 cents next year for each school meal in his neighborhood. This will be a challenge, given that prices have not risen in the last two years with the exception of the federal universal meal, he said.
“It will be a sticker shock for some of our families for sure,” he said.
Although students will not be charged for meals in the Reilly district of Maine, he said he understands how difficult it will be for districts in other states not to have universal school meals. It will not be an easy transition for families, he said, given that they have received free meals for the past two years.
“The districts will have to raise prices, and that will be a tough message to convey to families,” Reilly said.
The benefits of universal meals
Other federal exemptions that expire on June 30 – school meal programs to help address labor shortages and supply chain problems – should also continue, Reilly said, as these struggles continue because of the pandemic. On Wednesday, 25% of the school’s food staff was out of work, he said.
Reilly and Gould have also noticed a major advantage in pandemic times over universal school meals: an increase in meal attendance. In the Reilly district, participation is now 50% higher before the pandemic. Gould, meanwhile, saw a 60 percent increase in breakfast and a 45 percent increase in pandemic meals served in his neighborhood.
Exceptions have also removed the stigma of free and discounted meals for children, Gould said. With voters considering whether to accept universal school meals in Colorado this November, opponents said it was possible to set school meals in a negative light.
“The concern is what that stigma will be like as we look back,” he said.