TAMPA, Fla. - USDA waivers that allowed free school meals during the height of COVID-19 have ended, meaning most schools will return to free, reduced or paid meal options.
Since the federal waivers were not extended into the 2022-2023 school year, families will need to complete an application to receive breakfast and lunch for free or at a reduced price. It comes during a time when many school districts are also feeling the impacts of rising costs and supply chain issues.
"Going into the school year, we’ve had increased meal costs associated with the unprecedented effects of the pandemic and the supply chain issues," Sara Dan, the Sarasota County director of Food Service Nutrition Services, said.
Because of those factors, Sarasota County will raise prices for some of its meals for students.
"Raisins that we use for breakfast have gone from $57 a case to $74, olive oil $58 to $83 a case. Canola oil increases, peppers, milk prices," Dan said.
During the 2019-2020 school year, lunch for elementary school students was $2.25, and it will now be $2.75. For middle school students, lunch prices will go from $2.50 to $3.00 among other changes.
In Pasco County, elementary school breakfast pricing went up $0.25 and lunch $0.50. Middle school breakfast pricing went up $0.25, there was no change to lunch. High school breakfast pricing went up $0.25 and lunch up $0.25.
In Manatee County, there is a $0.25 increase for elementary and secondary lunch meals. Breakfast is free for all students all schools for the 2022-2023 school year.
Pinellas County Schools will keep prices the same offering free breakfast to all students. It will also add more schools to the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program which allows students attending schools that meet certain criteria to eat breakfast and lunch at no charge.
"We have added 11 additional schools into our Community Eligible Provision program, which is a component of the National School Lunch program. So, it allows more students to participate where the meals, the lunch meals are free," Karen Oruwariye said.
Polk and Hardee County Schools will also participate in the CEP program. Hillsborough County schools moved to adopt the program for this school year. In a release the district said, 174 schools fit the criteria to participate in CEP. This initiative will allow easier access to food for more than 127,000 students within the district, or 84% of the student body.
Learn more about the Hillsborough school meal benefits here: https://www.hillsboroughschools.org/mealbenefits.
Prior to this program, 66% of students received free and reduced lunch through a federal application process.
District leaders across the Tampa Bay area said families need to complete a new application for free and reduced school meals. They are also hopeful other federal funding sources will come through that can provide assistance.