Free school meals for all are ending; how is it affecting parents?

Free lunch for all students ending
Free lunch for all students ending(WPTA)
Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 5:35 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) - Students are heading back-to-school this week, which means parents will need to prepare lunch money after the federal government’s program providing free meals to every child is ending.

The program began in March 2020 when Congress authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue a set of waivers for school nutrition programs. One of the waivers allowed any kid to eat school meals for free during the pandemic. Now, students can get free or reduced lunch only under the Indiana Department of Educations income based eligibility.

Fort Wayne’s largest district, Fort Wayne Community Schools, will continue to provide free lunches. However, schools outside of Fort Wayne such as Dekalb County Schools will return to the income based model.

Parent of two children in Dekalb County Schools Chad Gramling says it’s not going to affect his family too much, but he knows the struggle.

“To be honest it’s not going to affect us too much, I grew up in a household where I got free lunch on income,” Gramling said. “We’re not by any means the most wealthy family, but we have been fortunate to not have to worry about it.”

He says as a kid he didn’t always have lunch money everyday, so he understands how this change will impact families.

Before the pandemic, data from the National School Lunch Program showed schools served almost 30 million lunches each day. There were nearly 20 million served in free lunches and about 7 million students paid full price.

Dekalb Central Food Service director Aubrey Gough says going back to an income based model will leave a need.

“It was a big impact, we had a lot more students eating across the board,” Gough said. “I think its hard for parents to go back from that…it doesn’t sound like a big deal. A lunch for 2.60, that adds up through the school year.”

The price of school lunch adds up. At $2.60 per school lunch each day, it would cost $59.80 a month per child. That number adds up to about $700 per year.

Indiana Department of Education
Indiana Department of Education(Fort Wayne's NBC)

So who’s qualified now? The Indiana Department of Education’s free or reduced eligibility requirements shows a four person household can get free lunch if they earn less than $36,075 a year.

“We’re not going to stop lobby for free lunches for all kids in all schools,” Gough said. “That’s just something we are going to keep pushing and eventually we will get there.”

Gough and Gambling both say they are hoping it returns to free lunch for all students at some point to reduce the need.

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