PHOENIX — Free school lunches for some students will expire for the next school year as the child nutrition waivers put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic will end.
ABC15 reported in April how the free breakfast and lunch meals will only be provided to children of families who meet income eligibility requirements unless lawmakers take action.
The universal free school meal program was initially introduced in March 2020 when the pandemic began.
School districts are beginning to send out communications to parents about the universal lunches ending — Liberty Elementary School District in the West Valley is notifying parents that the online applications for free and reduced meals are now open.
“As a reminder, the federal government is no longer providing free school meals,” the email stated, “We are asking all families to fill out the free and reduced meal application. Regardless of whether you qualify, it benefits the school district and our students immensely.”
In Mesa Public Schools, more than half of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. For the 2022-2023 school year, lunch prices are going up a quarter.
A spokesperson said the governing board approved raising prices during a May meeting.
Here are the Mesa Public Schools meal prices for 2022-23:
Elementary Breakfast: $1.50
Elementary Lunch: $2.25
Junior High Breakfast: $1.75
Junior High Lunch: $3.00
High School Breakfast: $1.75
High School Lunch: $3.50
Reduced Lunch (all sites): $0.40
A spokesperson said by email they will be reminding parents and guardians to fill out applications for students, “The universal access to free meals decreased the importance of/need for families to complete the application to participate in the meal program. It is critical that families understand they need to complete the application to continue to receive this important benefit if eligible. We will be communicating this with our families as part of our new school year information.”
Some districts, like Phoenix Union and the Washington Elementary School District (WESD), told ABC15 in April that they will be able to provide free lunches still as they are part of another federal program that will give students free lunches for another year or two.
"WESD will continue to provide free breakfast and lunch next school year through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). We offered free breakfast and lunch to students through the CEP prior to the pandemic," said a WESD spokesperson in an email.
For the 2022-2023 school year, the income guidelines follow the national guidelines for poverty.
When asked how many students this will eventually impact, the Arizona Department of Education gave the following answer:
"That can be only determined once we are able to look at data on student participation this coming year, and we will have a better idea in late August or early September Until we review school reporting data, we won’t be able to speculate on this question."