It's often called one of the greatest indicators of poverty, and it's on the rise. In 2010, the federally funded free and reduced price lunch program served about 21 million subsidized lunches every day at a cost of $10.8 Billion annually. As our Katie Gibas reports, more students than ever are receiving free and reduced price lunches.
ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- It's becoming harder and harder for parents to feed their children, according to a national increase in the number of students receiving free and reduced price lunches.
"Approximately 17,000 of our 21,000 children enrolled qualified for a free and reduced priced meal," said Ken Warner, the Syracuse City School District Food Services Assistant Director.
That's a 10-percent increase from 2006.
Students whose four-member family income is less than $29,055 (130 percent of the poverty level) qualify for free lunches. Children in similar sized households with earnings of up to $41,348 (183 percent of the poverty level) are eligible for a subsidized lunch.
"The economy has changed and this is an economical way to feed your children while you're at work and they're in school," said Warner.
Dr. Christopher Brown, the West Genesee School District Superintendent added, "If you have parents who are working just as hard as they can, but maybe because of the economy, had to take a pay cut, but still have the same mortgage payments, car payments, and all that. They've run out of money. $1.60 is a lot of money, and it does add up over time."
City schools aren't alone in this trend. About a quarter of the students in the West Genesee School District qualify. That's a 120 percent increase in just one year.
"It's a sign of the times. When I first got here, that number was down in the single digits. And that's kind of increased. But I think if you were to look at other school districts, you're going to see that same trend, just that increase in poverty," said Brown.
Besides the obvious economic reasons for an increase, technology has also played a roll.
"Everything was done via a cash register, so if you got free or reduced lunch, it was very difficult to mask that if you were coming through a food service line. Nowadays, everything is done by computer, so no one knows anything. You punch your number into the computer and that's it," said Brown.
District officials say they don't anticipate a reversal in the trend anytime soon.
For more information on the program and how to enroll confidentially, contact your district's food services director.
For more information visit www.fns.gov and www.fns.usda.gov.