The Rome school district’s annual announcement last week of free and reduced-price lunch details did not include a reduced price, because state funding will enable students qualifying for that category to also get meals for free.
The change, involving a new state budget allotment for students across New York, was noted Friday by the Rome district’s School Lunch Office and also by School Lunch Manager Christopher Whitmore in the district’s recently issued 2019-20 calendar.
Whitmore’s message said “due to state funding, if your children are approved for reduced-price meals, you will not have to pay the required 25 cents this year.” He added “you must still fill out the free/reduced lunch application,” but if qualifying for reduced-price status “your children will not be charged this year for their breakfast or lunch.”
Students who received free or reduced-price meals in the prior 2018-19 school year will continue to receive them until Oct. 20, and by then their new applications for 2019-20 need to have been filled out, returned and approved or disapproved, the district said. Applications are to be submitted to the school that children attend, or to Whitmore.
Eligibility for free or reduced-price meals is based on family income levels as set by federal guidelines. The Rome district serves about 3,500 lunches daily, and about 54 percent have been at free or reduced prices, according to prior data.
The 2019 state budget includes additional funding to pay the student cost of 25 cents for breakfast and lunch that previously was being charged to students who were approved as eligible for reduced-price meals, according to the state Education Department.
Overall, about 400,000 students statewide will benefit from the state’s $2.3 million investment which ensures that every student has access to healthy food, said a report at the Hunger Solutions New York website. It said the reduced-price meal fee can be a significant barrier to participation for many low-income families. New York is the eighth state along with the District of Columbia to provide funding to eliminate the reduced-price fee, the report noted. It also observed that participation among students certified for reduced-price meals had traditionally lagged behind students certified for free meals, due largely to the per-meal fee.
Under the latest federal guidelines, students from a household of four with an annual income at or below $33,475 are eligible for free meals pending a review of families’ applications for the program, said the Rome school district’s announcement. The same-size household with income at or below $47,638 can be eligible for reduced-price lunches. The guidelines overall cover household sizes from one to eight, plus an adjustment for each additional family member beyond that.
The Rome district’s regular lunch prices include $1.90 for grades K-8 and $2 for grades 9-12, along with 50 cents for milk if bought separately. The price for breakfast is $1.25.