Demand is skyrocketing:
Nearly 20 million children now receive free or reduced-price lunches in the nation’s schools, an all-time high, federal data show, and many school districts are struggling to cover their share of the meals’ rising costs.
Through February, nationwide enrollment in free school lunch programs was up 6.3% over the same time last year, to 16.5 million students, based on data from the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which subsidizes the programs. Participation in reduced-price lunch programs rose to 3.2 million students, the data show.
Demand in some states has climbed at an even greater rate: Enrollment in free lunch programs jumped almost 17% in California, and several states — Arizona, New Jersey, Utah and Vermont — also saw more than 10% growth.
Many new enrollees are believed to be first-timers from families hit by the recession, says FNS Administrator Julie Paradis. “These programs are intended to expand when the need is greater … and we’re pleased that they’re working,” she adds. “But certainly there are additional costs, and that is a concern at a time of scarce resources. Our state and local partners are stretched.”
Just click your heels and say “green shoots.”