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No more free lunch (for some)

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

With the start of school just around the corner, families must once again fill out an application for free and reduced-price meals in the RCS school district this year. Courtesy of Pexels

RAVENA-COEYMANS-SELKIRK — Families must once again fill out an application for free or reduced-price meals in the RCS school district.

The requirement is a change from the protocol that was in place since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began and upended school policies.

During the pandemic, breakfast and lunch was available free to all students, but that policy has been discontinued by the federal government.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and New York state have chosen not to extend the free meal plan for all students into the 2022-23 school year through the federally assisted meal program, National School Lunch Program,” according to the RCS district.

Families seeking free or reduced-price meals must fill out an application determining their eligibility. Families must meet income guidelines in order to be approved.

According to the USDA, the switch is a return to pre-pandemic rules.

“Schools had some flexibilities during COVID so they could serve all kids free meals,” according to the department. “Some of those options expired, so many schools can’t serve all meals free anymore. Instead, families will do what they did before COVID. Schools will take applications and use family income to qualify kids for free, reduced-price, or paid meals.”

Some students have been approved through direct certification, and those families will not have to apply, according to the RCS district. Children are automatically eligible for free meals if anyone in their household receives SNAP, TANF or FDPIR benefits.

Letters certifying families that are automatically eligible were expected at press time to go out around mid-August.

Those who did not receive a letter must fill out the application. Families with multiple children only need to fill out the form once.

“It is important that families who may be eligible for free or reduced-price meals fill out the free and reduced-price meals application for the 2022-23 school year,” according to the district. “Filling out this form will allow families to access many additional services and support networks they otherwise might not be able to. It will also give our school district and local municipalities valuable information about needed resources.”

Meal prices for the 2022-23 school year are as follows:

  • Elementary breakfast: $1.65
  • Elementary lunch: $2.85
  • Middle and high school breakfast: $1.90
  • Middle and high school lunch: $3.20.

To be eligible for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches, students’ families must meet income requirements.

“For example, a child in a family of four with a yearly income of $51,338 or less would qualify for reduced-price meals,” according to the USDA. “Families that believe their income is under the limit should fill out an application for free or reduced-price meals through their school.”

Households with two members have an income ceiling of $33,874 to be eligible for reduced-price meals, and those with three people can have a maximum household income of $42,606, according to the USDA guidelines. Eligible incomes rise with the number of people living in the household.

RCS Food Service Director Douglas Porter urged families to fill out an application if they believe they may be eligible. If you have any questions about the process, call Porter at 518-756-5200 ext. 2437. More information is available on the school district website at www.rcscsd.org/page/food-services.

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