New Paltz–The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that free school breakfast and lunch for all children (18 years and younger), regardless of income requirements, will be extended for the upcoming school year. This program was originally created to address food insecurity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The extension till June 2022 is one tenet of the ongoing federal initiative to return to schools safely. 

    Last year, the New Paltz Central School District provided 55,787 breakfasts and 77,693 lunches to students, thanks to free meals funding. Having free, healthy meals available for all students helps reduce food insecurity and allows household budgets to stretch. It also helps reduce the stress of meal planning and prepping. 

    According to the USDA, studies also show that students who participate in school meal programs consume more milk, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables during mealtimes than students who don’t participate. Research also shows that access to school meals can improve attendance, academic performance, and behavior.

    More participation also means more funding for the school district’s nutrition program. Schools that participate will receive higher-than-normal reimbursements for each meal they serve, which will support them in offering nutritious selections while managing increased costs associated with pandemic-related operational and supply chain challenges. This option also gives schools the financial flexibility to further customize their food service programs to better fit their needs. 

    Parents do not need to sign up for their child(ren) to receive free meals at school. However, the District encourages parents to fill out the completely confidential application, regardless, because the USDA’s reimbursement rate to the District is based on information collected. The rate of completion also may provide increased levels of  State & Federal funding for school budgets, fee waivers for college applications and admission tests, and resources for classrooms, teachers, and children.

    “The extension will provide additional relief from the financial struggles many families are continuing to experience as a result of the pandemic, or can simply remove the additional stress of shopping or planning school meals,” said New Paltz Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina. “We don’t ever want to see a child skip a meal for any reason. Students with hungry bellies are not ready to learn, and this relief makes certain that children are receiving the nutrition they need in order to focus on their schoolwork.” 

    To read the entire USDA announcement: https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2021/04/20/usda-issues-pandemic-flexibilities-schools-and-day-care-facilities