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Michigan seeing declining numbers in USDA lunch program participation

Students in Michigan have been able to receive free meals as part of the USDA’s national school...
Students in Michigan have been able to receive free meals as part of the USDA’s national school breakfast and lunch programs. The most recent data from the USDA shows 778,259 students received free meals last year compared to 810,124 in 2019.(WJRT)
Published: May. 4, 2021 at 5:30 PM EDT
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CORUNNA, Mich. (WJRT) - A downward trend. Across the state - the number of students taking advantage of free meals in their local school district is heading in the wrong direction.

Students in Michigan have been able to receive free meals as part of the USDA’s national school breakfast and lunch programs. The most recent data from the USDA shows 778,259 students received free meals last year compared to 810,124 in 2019.

Stephanie Phillips is the food service director for Corunna Public Schools -- just one district seeing a decline in meal program participation.

“Eventually it ends up taking a toll like between jobs, like staff could end up losing hours, we may not need as many hands to make the food, and overall it can just affect the school long term,” Phillips said.

Phillips says right now, the district is down 123 school lunches a day compared to a year ago, which is equivalent to 22,140 meals for the year.

The district also serves dinner meals done through a separate program; that number is down 96 meals a day.

And a la carte items which serve as a revenue source for the school is down $297 a day.

But breakfast meals are up by 206 compared to a year ago.

“A lot of schools are seeing that trend because we’re doing breakfast in the classroom, which isn’t typical. Usually it’s done in the cafeteria, they come through the line,” she said.

Philipps couldn’t pinpoint the exact reasoning for the decline, but we do know many other food sources and programs have become available to students and families during the pandemic.

But there’s still concern because the USDA meal program isn’t going to be free forever.

Phillips just doesn’t want to see this pattern continue both for the district’s sake and students.

“We’re here to help. We know a lot of people are hurting right now with jobs and anything like that, and our goal is just to try and relieve that pressure,” she said.

During normal school years, students have to meet income requirements to be eligible for free or reduced lunches.

But at the beginning of the pandemic - the USDA made meals free for all students.

That policy will run through the 2021-22 school year as well.

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