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School meal prices mirror pre-pandemic rates

Additional federal reimbursement means families will see no increase in school meal prices from the 2019-20 school year.

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BRAINERD — Families will have to pay for school meals for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, but prices in Brainerd will remain where they were pre-pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided free meals for students for the past two school years, but that program has come to an end.

Food Services Director Alissa Thompson told the Brainerd School Board Monday, Aug. 8, because of state and federal reimbursement amounts, families who have to go back to paying for their meals will not see an increase in cost from the 2019-20 school year, even as food prices climb.

The federal Keep Kids Fed Act, signed into law in June, provides increased financial support to schools to keep meal prices as low as possible. The act allots an additional 40 cents for student lunches and 15 cents for breakfast. Those amounts, paired with state reimbursements, mean Thompson is confident prices can stay where they were.

“I was very cognizant of inflation to families and that we’re going back to paid meals,” Thompson said. “So I don’t want that impact to be on families, while maintaining a budget in the food service department, and I’m confident that we won’t exceed our food budget this year.”

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Meal prices for 2022-23 are as follows:

  • Kindergarten students: Free breakfast through a grant, $2.75 for lunch.
  • Elementary students: $1.75 for breakfast, $2.75 for lunch.
  • Secondary students: $1.75 for breakfast, $2.85 for lunch.

Free and reduced

Students who qualify for free and reduced meals receive breakfast and lunch at no charge. Families under a certain income level qualify for the free and reduced program.

Typically, about 1,000 students directly qualify for the program without having to fill out an application through state programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Minnesota Family Investment Program and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Families who are a part of those programs and meet the free and reduced income guidelines automatically qualify for free meals.

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This year, Minnesota is part of a pilot program to evaluate how well direct certification based on Medicaid works. That means Brainerd families who are part of the Medicaid program and meet the free and reduced income restrictions will also automatically qualify for free meals. Thompson said Monday she already had 2,100 pre-qualified applications for free and reduced, which doesn’t typically happen for another several months as families fill out applications on their own.

The information for those who automatically qualify through Medicaid must come from the state, Thompson said. Those families should have already been notified of their qualification.

Thompson still urges anyone who is not sure if they qualify or who does not pre-qualify through one of the state programs to fill out an application as soon as possible.

Families who qualified for the free and reduced program last year will automatically qualify for the 2022-23 school year until Oct. 17 but would start having to pay after that date if they do not submit a new application. She urges those who have not participated in the program before to fill out and return their applications before the school year starts.

Free and reduced lunch applications are available at isd181.org/departments/food_services .

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THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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