As gas and food prices rise in the United States, some families are worried about having to pay for something else in the fall: lunch for their children at school.
For at least the past two school years, many parents have not had to worry about making or buying lunch for their school-aged children. This is because the emergency government funding at the start of the coronavirus pandemic included food aid for children. The aid covered the children’s lunch during the school year and during the summer for many families.
But funding for free lunch is set to end in several states before the start of the next school year.
Before the pandemic, Kate Murphy from Vermont and her family didn’t have enough money to pay their four children to buy school lunch. Instead, they bought large amounts of food for lunch and sent their children to school with food every morning.
But when the pandemic hit, the US government made lunch money available to most schools. The support came at a critical time for the Murphy family, as Kate’s husband had lost his job. Thanks to the free lunch program, the Murphys had one less financial worry.
But now the family may have to worry about lunch again. Murphy said his family made a little too much money to to qualify for free lunches based on the old program Income rules.
Experts say the end of school lunch assistance and other programs that have helped families save money means more people will have to seek help from food banks. Food banks provide free meals and food to families and individuals in need.
Vince Hall is the government relations manager for Feeding America, a group of food banks across the United States. He said many families are now “faced with a very difficult reality of having to choose between feeding their children, filling their gas tanks or buying medicine”.
The US Department of Agriculture oversees the school meals program. Cindy Long is the administrator of the ministry’s food and nutrition service. She said that during the pandemic, the number of children receiving free meals increased from 20 million to 30 million.
A summer meals program in 2020 distributed 1.3 billion meals and snacks. The total cost was $4.1 billion. This was eight times more than the previous year’s program costs.
President Joe Biden recently signed a bill that would keep summer meal programs the same as they did for the first two summers of the pandemic.
Some states use their own money to make free meals permanent. California and Maine did it last year. Massachusetts and Colorado are working on state proposals that would provide food assistance for at least one more school year.
Vermont, where the Murphy family lives, said it would use extra funds in the education budget to fund food aid for the coming year.
“Our kids have so much to worry about these days, and food shouldn’t be one of them,” Kate Murphy said.
Recently, at Albert D. Lawton School in Vermont, students ate pizza and salad with their friends. One student, Ethan Pringle, said it’s hard to learn when you’re hungry.
“Not everyone has the same situation at home,” he said. “So I think the free lunch makes it easier for everyone.”
I am Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learn English based on an Associated Press report.
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words in this story
funding– nm money that usually comes from an outside source to pay for something
to qualify -v. have the right to do something
Income – nm the amount of money earned for work or investments
to taste – nm a small amount of food usually eaten outside of regular mealtimes