Georgia families faced with losing free lunches

Metro Atlanta districts urge families to enroll
Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 11:23 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - For the last two years of the pandemic, Georgia public school students were guaranteed a free lunch at school.

That benefit will soon go away.

A federal government program is reverting back to pre-pandemic standards where families must qualify for free or reduced lunches based on their household income.

“We have to sound the alarm. Many people don’t know that you have to reapply,” said Leslie Z. Ramirez, a parent with three kids at Gwinnett County Public Schools.

Ramirez received an email this week from the school district alerting her that her children’s free or reduced lunches were set to expire in September.

“To avoid a negative balance or charges, please complete the free/reduced lunch application,” the email continued. The email directed parents to the district website.

According to the Keep Kids Feds Act of 2022, the USDA can grant waivers related to summer food services programs through September 30.

Schools relied on these waivers to cover the costs of school lunches for every student, regardless of household income.

Families of four could qualify for free lunches if their household income did not exceed $36,075. A family of four could qualify for reduced-priced lunches if their household income did not exceed $51,338.

Free and Reduced-priced school Lunch eligibility.
Free and Reduced-priced school Lunch eligibility.(GA Dept. of Education)

Districts have been alerting families for months of this change.

A spokesperson for Atlanta Public School said their staff reviews roughly one-thousand applications per day regarding free or reduced-priced lunches.

“This is just not the time to restrict access as so many families are struggling with these higher costs of food and gas and other things,” said Kyle Waide, President and CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Waide said the federal government should extend not limit food access during inflationary times.

“Lines are definitely longer a year ago and it means that more families need help, and food banks are having to respond more aggressively,” Waide said.

Waide said that the Atlanta Community Food Bank spent roughly $16 million on food - to compliment donations.

Pre-pandemic, Waide said they only spent roughly $5 million on food costs.