School corporations seek waivers to end national free lunch policy – WISH-TV | Indianapolis News | Indiana Weather forecast

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A school corporation’s director of nutrition said Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how many students depend on free lunches to get them through the day.

Perry Township Schools is one of 12 to 18 Indiana school corporations seeking a district-wide community eligibility waiver, or CEP, from the United States Department of Agriculture this school year. This means the company would be able to serve free breakfasts and lunches to every student at each of its schools, regardless of income. Child Nutrition Director Erin Coleman said, “Perry Township schools have used CEP waivers for individual buildings in the past, but have never applied for a blanket waiver before.

“The waiver (in times of the pandemic) has been a huge help, not only to the school districts themselves, but also to our families,” Coleman said. “They had no income. A lot of people lost their jobs, so it was a way to just help them.

The USDA normally requires that at least 40% of students in a building or school district be eligible for free or reduced-price meals before allowing CEP waivers. Otherwise, students must complete an application to get their meals for free. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal authorities waived these requirements, meaning school meals were available free to everyone across the country. The policy expired this summer, meaning low-income families again face pre-pandemic eligibility rules. Coleman said the end of the policy played a key role in his district’s decision to seek a waiver. She said around 80% of students in Perry Township are entitled to free meals.

“We didn’t want this sticker shock for our families to go from having these free meals to having them ripped out from under them,” Coleman said. “We knew there was a need and we wanted to continue providing these free meals. And if we qualify for a program that allows us to do that, then that’s what we’re going to do.

The use of district-wide FFS waivers is neither new nor universal. Indianapolis public schools have had free lunches for everyone since the 2014-15 school year, while Decatur Township school officials said they first want to see how many eligible students they have since they had redrawn their boundaries. Tarrah Westercamp of No Kid Hungry Indiana said more and more school districts are investigating CEP waivers not only because they help feed children, but also because they reduce paperwork. Students applying for free school meals normally have to provide documents every year. Westercamp said if you qualify for any type of public assistance or are having financial hardship, you should speak to your school’s director of food services and ask for free meals.

“Even if you’re not sure, it’s not going to hurt the student at all,” she said. “This app is used for textbook assistance, extracurricular assistance, text exams, all sorts of things in the school environment.”

If your district doesn’t qualify for a CEP waiver or you’re unable to get free meals, Westercamp said, check with local churches and food pantries. Sites like Community Compass can help you find one near you. Additionally, Coleman said some school corporations have backpacking school lunch programs, particularly during the summer months.

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