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Program giving all students access to free school meals ending

This comes as many families struggle with the rising cost of food.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The school year is set to begin and across the country, millions of children will lose access to free meals in school. The federal government is moving away from changes made to help families during the pandemic. This comes as the cost of food rises and more families struggle to make ends meet.

During the pandemic, the federal government removed family income requirements for nutritional services, allowing all children to access free meals at school.

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“An additional 10 million children have been able to receive school meals at no charge while schools have received critical financial assistance during the pandemic. Summer meal programs have expanded exponentially,” Jamie Bussel with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation’s largest health philanthropy. The organization pushing for all children to continue to receive free school meals.

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But just as the new school year begins, free meals for all will end. Many families are facing financial hardships with inflation and the cost of food rising and some who weren’t eligible before the pandemic may be now. They will have to apply for free or reduced school meals for the first time.

Schools will also have to dedicate resources to verifying which students are eligible.

“This, prior to the pandemic, has not reached every child in need, and that’s for a host of other reasons,” Bussel said. “In terms of eligibility criteria, in terms of being able to access what’s often a cumbersome process. Although 30 million children participate in the national school lunch program, there are many, many children in need that it’s not reached.”

The majority of schools in the area will revert back to specific financial eligibility requirements. The application for CMS is available online.

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But many say the past two years have been a success and are pushing for permanent changes to help more families.

“The power of school meals and the critical role they play in student health, in student wellbeing in academic success cannot be underestimated,” Bussel said.

The goal is to feed students for a successful future.

For a full list of how every school district in the area is handling the free and reduced lunch program click here.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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