Georgia families seeing more free school meals this year

ATLANTA — Parents struggling to make ends meet are getting help from the state when it comes to providing meals for their children at school.

“It’s been really a blessing to our family,” Gwinnett mom Tanzania Birdsong said.

Birdsong was one of multiple parents who took advantage of the Gwinnett County Summer Meals Program.

“Food is so high right now, it’s crazy,” parent Shane Schnoor said.

And it’s not just a stress relief for your wallet.

Mom Tonya Harold told Channel 2 Action News that one of the reasons she signed up was for its convenience.

“You don’t have to worry like, you know, are they going to eat? How are they going to eat?” Harold said.

All three families Channel 2′s Lori Wilson spoke with said they planned on reapplying for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Nation School Lunch Program.

“In this day and age, it is helping out a lot of families. It really is. And, you know, A lot of people are, you know, struggling,” Schnoor said.

During the pandemic, the USDA’s food and nutrition service provided COVID-19 waivers that gave every child in every public school free breakfast and lunch.

Last school year, those waivers ended, and families once again had to meet income requirements and apply to receive free or reduced-price meals.

This year, families who qualify for reduced meals won’t have to pay at all. That’s thanks to a $6.3 million grant approved by the state.


“So that’s pretty significant. And I’m extremely grateful,” said Dr. Linette Dodson, who is the Georgia State School Nutrition Director.

Channel 2 Action News sat down with Dodson at Central High School in Carrollton to talk about updates to this year’s school meal programs.

She told Wilson that once families apply for the NSLP and are approved, the district will notify families of the change.

She also said students who receive SNAP or TANF benefits were already able to qualify for the NSLP without having to apply.

New this year, families on Medicaid will now be included.

Georgia is one of 14 states that was selected by the USDA allowed to use Medicaid data to certify students from low-income households to receive free and reduced-price school meals.

“Based on our early numbers we’re seeing that potentially could qualify up to 900,000 Georgia children,” Dodson said.

But some lawmakers say more can be done. State Rep. Imani Barnes introduced HB 510 earlier this year. The bill proposed free meals for all students.

“We have a surplus of funds here in Georgia. And I believe using that to fund this would be a win-win for everyone,” Barnes said.

As a single parent herself, Barnes said she understands the difficulties of our current economy.

“So, I had to begin to budget money that was already stretched thin that I didn’t have to budget the past two years, in the midst of inflation and high prices for food, gas, and everything,” Barnes said.

HB 510 did not pass, but Barnes plans to introduce it again in 2024.

For Harold, she said it just makes sense.

“The fact that they are even going by somebody’s earnings to determine whether or not a kid can pay for or eat free lunch to me is ridiculous,” Harold said. “What they’re grading it on doesn’t really impact like, stuff that you have to pay out of pocket.”

Dodson told us there have been some supply chain issues and cost increases creating challenges across the state, but Georgia received $7.1 million from the USDA in local food for school’s cooperative agreement program.

The Georgia Department of Education is starting to distribute those funds to help provide more resources for local programs.

You can find information on the National School Lunch Program by CLICKING HERE.


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