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Arkansas families having to apply for free lunch program

The free and reduced lunch program is going back to normal after two years of all students receiving free lunch.

ARKANSAS, USA — Food insecurity continues to be a problem in Arkansas and because of that many families rely on the free and reduced lunch program. But this year the program is going to look a little different.

In the last two years, because of a federal grant in the height of the pandemic, meals at school have been completely free for all ages, virtual and in-person students. 

But this year, things are going back to normal, with families having to apply and then be approved for their kids to receive free or reduced lunch.  On average lunch costs anywhere from $2 to $3.50, but reduced can cut those costs by about 40 to 50 cents.

Amy Jefferson at Fayetteville Schools tells 5NEWS that 38 percent of their district depends on the free and reduced lunch program to eat at school.

“It goes to show we do have students in need in our area... we’ve been used to free meals for the last two years and parents haven’t had to apply, so this is a little different. It’s very important to remember to get in and get your application in,” said Jefferson.

According to Trent Jones with Springdale Schools over 70 percent of students in the district depend on the program.

“There’s a lot of stressors in people's lives. The dollar doesn’t quite go as far as it used to. But one thing that should not be in jeopardy is a student's opportunity to get healthy options for the food. We are here to help you and we want to help you,” said Jones.

Leigh Christian with Fort Smith Schools said it’s important all families apply, the approval depends on more than just income and affects more than just meals.

“This gives every student the ability to eat the same good quality meal. There’s nobody called out, there’s no alternate breakfast," Leigh said. "We live in a high poverty area and [the free and reduced lunch program] allows us to sufficiently feed those, but it’s also important to the district for funding."

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