Students will receive free breakfast and lunch through some time around the end of this year, local school districts announced on their websites and Facebook pages earlier this week.
In late August, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would extend “flexibilities” that allowed local schools to offer expanded summer meal programs after schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beginning on Monday, Sept. 14, schools were able to offer breakfast and lunch to students at no cost — regardless of the students’ income level, according to posts on local schools’ social media and a press release from Fairfield Local Schools.
The program will help alleviate local students’ and their families’ financial stress, local superintendents told The Times-Gazette Wednesday.
“It is just an absolutely wonderful thing for our students,” Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis said. “With all this going on and the things that happened over the course of last school year and through the summer to now, this is just a great opportunity for our kids and our families — one less stress financially.”
Bright Local School District Superintendent Mike Bick said, “The free meal program is huge for us. It provides an opportunity for those students who are on the virtual program to have access to free meals as well as any student who’s in the building. That’s going to be a huge piece for us. It helps our students out, it helps our families within the community out. It allows our students to not worry about the cost of that hot meal. We’ve already seen an increase in the number of students eating breakfast. I don’t know if it’s a result of [the free meal program], but we have seen an increase.”
Parents and guardians whose children are attending classes virtually should contact their respective school districts for more information about the pick-up options available.
Though Bick and Davis said parents and guardians whose children are attending classes in-person do not need to complete any paperwork for the program, each district recommended that students who qualify for free and reduced meals still submit the relevant forms as, at this time, the program has not been approved to run for the entire 2020-21 school year.
According to a Sept. 8 press release from the USDA, the extension of these flexibilities will last “through as late as Dec. 31, 2020 … or until available funding runs out.”
“This unprecedented move will help ensure — no matter what the situation is on the ground — children have access to nutritious food as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the press release read. “Collectively, these flexibilities ensure meal options for children continue to be available so children can access meals under all circumstances. USDA is taking this unprecedented action to respond to the needs of its stakeholders, who have shared concerns about continuing to reach those in need without enlisting the help of traditional summer sites located throughout communities across the US. While there have been some well-meaning people asking USDA to fund this through the entire 2020-21 school year, we are obligated to not spend more than is appropriated by Congress.”
According to the press release, over the past six months, as schools across the country handed out more meals than a traditional school year program, USDA has “has continuously recalculated remaining appropriated funds to determine how far we may be able to provide waivers into the future, as Congress did not authorize enough funding for the entire 2020-21 school year.” The USDA’s estimation that these programs can continue to operate as late as Dec. 31 is based on these calculations.
Greenfield Superintendent Quincey Gray, Fairfield Superintendent Tim Dettwiller, and Lynchburg-Clay Superintendent Brett Justice could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.