Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Don’t Pass up Next Year’s Free School Lunch Application

Whether you’re in The Great Recession is still in effect camp or a member of The Recovery is for real camp chances are your household income has not changed much for some time.  Robots, employers keeping wages low intentionally, offshoring, and outsourcing, have all led to a harsh reality many Americans now face: being ousted from the middle-class camp.

One of my roles as a high school administrator has been to oversee our Registration days.  These take place the week before school starts, during the summer.  I have been asked to funnel as many parents as I can toward the Free & Reduced Lunch Application station at one of our computer labs.  It’s all done online now. Despite there not being a penalty for trying, i.e., for submitting an application, there are still many families that skip this option.  Though there are families that know ahead of time that they simply will not make the cut, the income eligibility requirement, that is, a great many are making the decision to opt-out blindly.  Some have not come to terms with their depressed incomes.  And a few are being encouraged to stay away by the stigma associated with this designation.

“Oh, that’s for poor people only.”  I hear this every school year.  Yet, the number of F & R Lunch applicants keeps rising steadily nationwide.  Is the stigma associated with qualifying for free meals at schools diminishing?  Or is it just a question of there being that many more people falling below the poverty line?  I happen to think it is the latter.  Many families, especially at the high school level, are still refusing to come to grips with their circumstances.  They’d rather send their kids to school with a bag lunch or money.

I’ll tell you what many teens do.  They go home and tell their parents that school lunches are nasty.  They do this because they are embarrassed to stand in the lunch line with the rest of the “poor kids.”  Unsuspecting parents, having only their own experience to recall, believe their teen student.  The thing is…school lunches have gotten better!  Since the day Reagan called ketchup a vegetable, school meals have markedly improved in quality and taste.  Regulations have been enacted.  I’m not gonna take the time to cite them here, but they include guaranteeing that each meal have a protein source, a starch source, a fruit, or a vegetable.  Healthy stuff for sure.

What is the economic impact of you, as a parent or guardian, having to take care of your child’s energetic needs while at school five times a week?  It may cost you about $3-$3.50 daily in the form of you putting something together at home, snacks and lunch.  Say you are spending around $15-$17.50/school week to feed Junior.  The average school year is around 182 days.  Let’s round it to 36 weeks.  It amounts to an expense of anywhere from $540 to $630 a year in grocery money to feed your hungry teen while at school.  Invariably, there will be days when Junior will ask for lunch money instead.  Or you will be late to work and unable to fix Junior his bag lunch.  Would your middle or high school kid be okay with $3-$3.50 in lunch money?  Ha!  Try $5.  So now eating at school on your dime begins to hit closer to $1,000/year.  Multiple this dollar figure by the total number of school years you have been willing to forego applying for F & R Lunch, and perhaps you’ll begin to appreciate the impact of your negligence.

Some families are in luck, however.  There are areas across our country where now every student is eligible for free meals.  See: Diversity Inc.

If your school district is not offering free school meals for every student (some states are not participating) then you will have to go the conventional route.  Start by checking your household’s eligibility.  These are the latest, adjusted, cut-offs for the upcoming school year.  See:  GPO.gov.  If you qualify, apply!

You have undoubtedly heard of saving on things like coffee, restaurant outings, cable, etc., from the multiple financial articles on the web.  Well, I’m telling you how you can save money another way while also helping schools keep accurate data.  It doesn’t hurt to take a look.

Thanks for reading!

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