End of universal free meals in schools may present challenges

Columbia, SC (WOLO) — As the new school year approaches, the pandemic protections that allowed all kids to eat free have ended. Families will now need to complete an income-based application to qualify for free meals.

Dr. Orgul Ozturk, an economics professor at the University of South Carolina, says her and her colleagues’ research shows that low-income families outside the free lunch qualification cutoff will feel the effects of this the most. “It’s going to be a financial shock to families,” says Dr. Ozturk.

Dr. Ozturk, along with other researchers from the University of South Carolina, Georgetown University, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, found that school meal times can sometimes put students in embarrassing situations low-income who are eligible for free meals.

“There is a stigma associated with being the free lunch recipient and it can prevent students from eating school lunch, which largely defeats the purpose of the program itself. The lunch provided to the most vulnerable is not being used,” says Dr. Ozturk.

Low-income students who do not qualify financially for free lunches may also face stigma.

“When someone who is supposed to pay for their lunch but can’t, and there is no universal free lunch, that creates a lot of stigma that creates a very uncomfortable environment for a teenager or a child in a very vulnerable psychological state already. ”, says Dr. Ozturk.

The researchers found that students who cannot afford school meals may, in turn, experience other problems at home, leading to behavior problems at school.

“It can also be due to food insecurity in the household. So when your parents don’t have enough and that leads to domestic disputes, if you have a family that fights because you can’t afford this or that financially, that will also affect the child’s psyche and result in behavior and discipline problems. problems,” says Dr. Ozturk.

The research found that when meals were free to all students, academic and behavioral problems tended to improve.

While some schools use a program called community eligibility provision to help serve free meals, Dr. Ozturk says one solution remains the strongest, saying, “That is our duty as a society to feed children. If you ask my opinion as a researcher and a parent, I think we should provide a free, healthy lunch for everyone. So that our children have at least some reliable source of nutrition.”

To read the research by Dr. Ozturk and her colleagues, visit the following link on Science Direct.

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