Recently, there has been a surge in the number of American schoolchildren who have made a national list. Sadly, it’s not an academic accomplishment nor an athletic accomplishment. Instead, these 21 million schoolchildren have all qualified for free or low-cost school meals. A few years ago, many of these children came from families who were considered to be middle class, but now, due to the national economic crisis, they are on longer in this socio-economic range after their parents lost their jobs or homes.
Since the 2006-2007 school year, there has been a 17 percent increase in the number of students who qualify for free or low-cost meals. Eleven states, including Florida, Nevada, New Jersey, and Tennessee, have seen increases of 25 percent or more in the past four-years.
“These are very large increases and a direct reflection of the hardships American families are facing,” said Benjamin Senauer, an economists at the University of Minnesota. He also said that this new surge has come about so quickly “that people like myself who do research are struggling to keep up with it.”
What are the qualifications for the subsidized meal program? Students must come from families who have a household income of up to 130 percent of the poverty level can qualify for free meals. This means that a family of four can make up to $29,055 annually. Students whose families earn up to $41,348 annually qualify for a subsidized program, which prices the lunches at $0.40. Also, in many school districts across the nation, students whose families qualify for food stamps are directly enrolled in the program.
This new trend is affecting many families who never thought they would qualify for this program, according to Debbi Beauvais, the district supervisor of the meals program in New York.
Some schools are now offering free breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for their students. The Hickman Mills C-1 school district in Kansas City, Missouri, is one school that is doing this. After a Home Depot, several grocery stores, and a shopping mall all closed and many parents found themselves unemployed, the percent of students who qualified for subsidized lunches climbed to 80 percent. Now, the schools feed around 700 student three meals each day.
“This is the neediest period I’ve seen in my 20-year career,” said Leah Schmidt, the district’s nutrition director.