Free school lunches and breakfasts offered to all for students in eligible schools for the past two years, regardless of income, will come to an end at the end of the school year.
U.S. Department of Agriculture waivers in place since March 2020 as part of pandemic relief will end in June. The waivers were extended to all students attending schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program.
For the 2022-23 school year, families can apply for free or reduced-price meals with their participating school starting July 1. Eligibility is based on federal income guidelines or participation in other programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF.
Students who are homeless, migrant, runaway, in foster care or who are enrolled in Head Start or other eligible pre-kindergarten programs may also be eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. Families should should check on eligibility with their local participating school.
Utah families have not needed to apply for free or reduced-price school meals since the 2019-2020 school year due to COVID-19 relief.
“Please make sure to fill this out so that you can continue to get your benefits if you qualify,” said Kathleen Britton, director of child nutrition programs for the Utah State Board of Education.
Will prices rise?
Students who do not meet the guidelines will be required to pay for school lunch once the waivers end. Meal prices are set by district or charter school boards.
Britton said participating schools and school districts are working to keep meal prices stable during the transition period.
“We are probably one of the states with the lowest meal prices and that is due to the schools also receive a liquor tax per meal, which helps defer the cost of that meal so that greatly helps our school districts,” Britton said.
Under the waiver program, the federal government has provided a higher reimbursement rate per meal to eligible schools. Additional grants have been available to help schools address supply chain issues and other emergency issues. Those grants are ending, too.
Some school districts have a three-month balance given the additional federal funding during the pandemic “that will help get them through this next school year with the transition,” she said.
Waiving the costs of meals for all students at eligible schools has increased consumption, Britton said.
Utah schools served more than 54.9 million lunches during the 2018-2019 school year. This school year, from July through March, some 46 million lunches have been served and “we still have two-and-a-half more months worth of meals so we will exceed the 54 million if you compare it that way,” Britton said.
All Utah school districts and some public charter schools participate in the National School Lunch Program, along with some private schools.