Some school districts will raise meal prices as federal waivers end

USDA waivers that allowed free school meals during the height of COVID-19 have ended, meaning most schools will revert to free, reduced, or paid meal options.

Since the federal waivers have not been extended through the 2022-2023 school year, families will need to complete an application to receive free or reduced price breakfast and lunch. This comes at a time when many school districts are also feeling the effects of rising costs and supply chain issues.

“At the start of the school year, we had an increase in meal costs associated with the unprecedented effects of the pandemic and supply chain issues,” said Sara Dan, director of nutrition services for the food services of the Sarasota County.

Due to these factors, Sarasota County will increase the prices of some of its meals for students.

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“Raisins we use for breakfast have gone from $57 a case to $74, olive oil from $58 to $83 a case. Canola oil is up, peppers, prices milk,” Dan said.

In the 2019-20 school year, lunch for elementary students was $2.25, and now it will be $2.75. For middle schoolers, lunch prices will increase from $2.50 to $3.00, among other changes.

In Pasco County, the price of elementary school breakfast increased by $0.25 and lunch by $0.50. College breakfast price increased by $0.25, there was no change for lunch. The price of high school breakfast went up $0.25 and lunch went up $0.25.

In Manatee County, there is a $0.25 increase for elementary and secondary lunches. Breakfast is free for all students in 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 free breakfast and lunch.

“We’ve added 11 additional schools to our Community Eligible Provision program, which is part of the National School Lunch program. This allows more students to participate where meals, lunches are free,” said Karen Oruwariye.

Schools in Polk and Hardee County will also participate in the CEP program. Hillsborough County Schools have decided to adopt the program for this school year. In a statement, the district said 174 schools meet the criteria to participate in CEP. This initiative will provide easier access to food for more than 127,000 students in the district, or 84% of the student population.

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Prior to this program, 66% of students received free and discounted lunch through a federal application process.

District leaders in the Tampa Bay area said families must reapply for free and reduced school meals. They also hope that other sources of federal funding can help.

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