Free Lunch

Josie Offt, Staff Reporter

 The United States Department of Agriculture made the announcement last April that free meals would be offered to all students attending public schools for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year, regardless of financial situations. Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill to make meals free for students permanently. Bernie Sanders stated in an Insider article, “Every child deserves a quality education free of hunger. What we’ve seen during the pandemic is that a universal approach to school meals works. We cannot go backwards.”  Around 42 million people living in the US have been financially impacted by the pandemic, increasing the amount of people struggling with food access from 2019 by 20%. In the spring of 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act began funding for food assistance, making it easier for application of assistance programs. Many benefits were added to already existing programs.The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program received a 15% boost, the Women, Infants and Children program received an extra $26 per month, and the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program were given additional funds for when schools were shut down. With the help of this funding, some of the world’s hunger issues have improved. 

            A study from 2018 showed that school lunches are the single healthiest food source in the U.S.A study that looked at American diets found school lunches to be the most healthy compared to restaurants and grocery stores, with only 24% of school meals being low quality. When schools shut down due to the pandemic, drop off and pick up locations were instated for both breakfast and lunch. Some school districts have turned down the USDA’s offer, for example Waukesha, Wisconsin. Out of the 408 school districts in Wisconsin who were eligible, Waukesha is the only one not accepting the program. According to Karen Rajnicek, a school board member who was interviewed in an article by The Washington Post, “the free program made it easy for families to become spoiled.” This brought together almost 1,000 parents and teachers who created the “Alliance for Education in Waukesha.” This is a connection over social media that’s been pressing the district to accept the USDA’s program, especially now with pandemic caused financial struggles. Students from low-income households attending Waukesha will still be eligible for free or reduced priced meals through the original National School Lunch Program.

           In recent years, school lunch debt has risen by 70%. Students who have remaining debt may have consequences, including not being able to participate in school activities, or being served cold lunches rather than a hot lunch that other students have access to. Having lunch debt, or not having enough money in a student’s account can promote “lunch shaming,” a term used when someone is made fun of for these reasons. Lunch shaming has been seen more recently, especially post pandemic, and was taken into consideration when free and reduced priced meals began to open up. For the most part, the districts that accepted the USDA’s offer reduced food insecurity and obesity rates.