WEST JORDAN, Utah — A COVID-19 pandemic relief program provided by the federal government is ending, just as students are getting ready to return to the classroom.
For more than two years since the pandemic began in March 2020, all public school students in grades K-12 received breakfast and lunch at no charge, regardless of their family’s income.
The program was part of a coronavirus relief package and allowed schools to distribute meals when most students participated in virtual learning.
Congress did not extend the program beyond the 2021-2022 school year. That means meals will no longer be free when students head back to school in August unless their families apply for assistance.
“For two years I haven't thought about it for my own kids,” said Buddy Alger, principal at Heartland Elementary in the Jordan School District. “I think it's going to sneak up on families either way. I think that's the important part about getting the word out now.”
The Jordan School District is reminding families to apply for assistance now so they aren’t surprised by an unexpected bill.
Many families with young children have not been required to apply for assistance prior to this year.
“They have never — it's a whole new process,” said Katie Bastian, the nutrition services director at the district. “To not have to pay for breakfast or lunch for three kids, that would add up.”
At the Jordan School District, elementary school breakfast costs $0.80 and lunch costs $1.75 for a total of $2.55 per student, per day. A family with three children in elementary school would see a monthly cost of around $150.
With inflation at record highs and housing costs skyrocketing, many families are being stretched to their financial limits. The district wants to make sure those who qualify take advantage of every opportunity to save money.
“Pre-COVID, it would have helped more than 60% of our families to have free or reduced lunch, which at this point comes at an important time due to inflation and rising costs,” Alger said.
Families in the Jordan School District can fill out a paper application or CLICK HERE to complete the process online.
Those families who do not qualify for the program are encouraged to add money to their child’s online meal payment account.