With North Carolina lawmakers still working on the state budget (as of August 14, 2023), students will return to classrooms without the school lunch reduced-price copay, which made a huge impact last school year on families in need.
Families in non-CEP schools that qualify for reduced-price meals need to be informed that they will have to pay $0.40 for school lunch for the first time in years. After multiple years of free school meals at the start of the pandemic and the reduced-price lunch copay last school year, this might be confusing or frustrating for many families. Communicating the situation in advance will be an important step.
The copay for breakfast will continue to be covered by the state this school year, as these funds are authorized as recurring state funds.
The reduced-price lunch copay was a huge source of support for students last school year. Hopefully, it will be included again in this year’s final budget. The Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) Office of School Nutrition has stated it will work quickly to allocate funds to each School Food Authority if and when they become available again for the lunch copay. From DPI’s message to school nutrition teams:
The $0.30 co-pay for breakfast will continue for SY 2023 -2024 as these funds are authorized in NC General Statute as recurring state funds. These funds are available to your School Food Authority upon submission of the monthly claim for reimbursement.
However, the $0.40 copay for lunch was not originally authorized to be recurring, therefore the legislation and the funding expired on June 30, 2023. While the department and many other advocacy groups have requested this funding be authorized and recurring, the funds have not been appropriated by the NC General Assembly for the current school year (2023 – 2024). We will not know whether funds for the reduced-price student co-pay will be available until state policy makers adopt a budget.
Until a state budget has been adopted and legislation directs the use of state funds for the reduced-price lunch co-pay, please move forward with collecting the $0.40 co-pay from students that are eligible for reduced-price meals.
Please know that once we have been notified whether funding is available for this purpose, we will notify you of the effective date the School Food Authority will begin to receive those state funds as part of the monthly reimbursement. We will also work to quickly allocate the funds to each School Food Authority.
We regret the inconvenience this may cause, yet we must be prudent in our guidance based on our authority under the National School Lunch Program and our obligation to advise you based on sound financial management of the programs.
Making the school lunch copay a part of the budget — just like the school breakfast reduced-price copay currently — is a crucial step, and would avoid interruptions like this one in the future. The School Meals for All NC coalition has easy ways to contact your state representatives about this issue. Find them HERE.