Economists will tell you there's no such thing as a free lunch. But that won't apply to families in the Iowa Falls and South Hardin schools for the next few months.
Funding released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Aug. 31 will pay for all students in the Iowa Falls, Eldora-New Providence and Hubbard-Radcliffe school districts to receive free school meals - breakfast and lunch - every school day. According to the USDA, the free meals will last through Dec. 31, or until funding runs out. The program is being made available through a flexibility added to the USDA's summer meal program. Schools that operate a summer meal program - providing free lunch to children 0-18, regardless of financial situation, through the summer months - can continue that program this fall. The extension was approved in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy and nutritious food," said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a press release. "During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibilities to help schools feed kids through the school meal programs, and today, we are also extending summer meal program flexibilities for as long as we can, legally and financially."
In Iowa Falls and South Hardin schools, that means free breakfast and lunch starting next week. The announcement was made by Iowa Falls and Alden Superintendent Tony Neumann on Thursday afternoon. South Hardin Superintendent Dr. Adam Zellmer confirmed the districts have been approved, and he released information about the program on Friday morning.
Neumann said paperwork has been submitted for the Alden School District to participate in the program too, but it's unclear when that will be approved.
All students - regardless of income - are able to receive free school lunch if they want it every day. Students who are learning remotely this fall are also able to receive free school lunches. Their families are asked to reach out to district offices to arrange pickup of meals.
Both Neumann and Zellmer said that students who purchase food items a la carte, or purchase additional servings of meals will have to pay for that food. Only one lunch and one breakfast per student will be provided free of charge.
Neumann's announcement asked families with negative lunch balances to continue paying those off, and it encouraged families who may be eligible for free or reduced-price lunch to apply for that program to guarantee there are no changes to students' meal plans when the free meal program ends.