Free and reduced lunches changing for 2022-2023 school year

Published: Aug. 2, 2022 at 5:45 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Lunch programs are changing this school year across Virginia. For the first time since the pandemic, many families will now have to pay for school lunches.

Students in Virginia received free lunch during the last two school years without an eligibility application. Those pandemic policies expired at the end of June. A spokesperson with the School Nutrition Association explained families should be prepared for changes.

“It’s very important for parents to know that meals are no longer free for all students and it’s important to understand that it’s confusing because it’s been a few years now, especially for families whose kids started school during the pandemic,” Diane Pratt-Heavner said. “They may not realize that these programs operated pre-pandemic.”

Virginia’s state budget provides $8.2 million in funding for school districts over the next two years to make reduced lunches completely free for eligible families. The director of No Kid Hungry Virginia explained that funding will help feed nearly 64,000 students.

“Just like families are experiencing increased prices at the grocery store, so are our school nutrition departments,” Sarah Steely said. “I talk to them all the time and I hear about kid favorites, like chicken patties, the cost is up 60%.”

However, parents now have to fill out applications to make sure kids eat for free.

“Parents might not be familiar with the changes might not be familiar that they have to fill out their free and reduced form and might start to accrue meal debt,” Steely said.

Some school districts will participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Schools that fall under the CEP will continue to give kids free breakfast and lunch without requiring an income application.

Districts where every school is providing free breakfast and lunch*:

  1. Roanoke City Public Schools
  2. Franklin County Public Schools
  3. Martinsville City Public Schools
  4. Nelson County Public Schools
  5. Amherst County Public Schools
  6. Appomattox County Public Schools
  7. Charlotte County Public Schools
  8. Halifax County School District
  9. Pittsylvania County Public Schools
  10. Wythe County Public Schools
  11. Grayson County Public Schools

Districts where certain schools are providing free breakfast and lunch*:

  1. Roanoke County Public Schools
  2. Campbell County Public Schools
  3. Lynchburg City Schools
  4. Bedford County Public Schools

Parents and families should contact their specific school administration to find out if meals will be provided this year under CEP.

Franklin County Public School’s coordinator for school nutrition explained CEP will help dozens of families.

“The beauty of this means they don’t have the burden of having to fill out a lunch application,” Heather Snead said. “I think this will benefit a lot of parents and families, especially right now with economic uncertainty and with what we’re all going through.”

The Virginia Department of Education approves CEP funding district-wide and for individual schools. Any school that has 40% or more “identified students” are eligible for funding. “Identified students” are children who are directly certified for free meals.

“We’ve heard in the past about the negative lunch accounts and things of alternative meals and things,” Snead said. “We don’t have that issue anymore. Everybody gets to eat.”

Some schools in Southwest Virginia are still waiting for applications to be approved.

*This is not a comprehensive list of all schools that may be participating in the Community Eligibility Provision program. These are the only districts WDBJ7 could confirm participation in.

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