The nation’s listless economy is showing in school cafeterias, where more and more students are qualifying for free or lower-cost lunches.
In Georgia, more than 57 percent of school kids are eligible for the program, a jump of 4 percent in the last two years.
“Nationwide, we’re seeing an increase in the number of free and reduced [lunch] eligibility,” said Claude Mwanda in the school nutrition division at the Georgia Department of Education. “We expect to see that even more for the school year [2011-2012] as well.”
To qualify for reduced-price lunches, a family of four must make no more than $40,793. For free lunches, the income threshold is $28,665.
The actual number of students entitled to the cheaper lunches has decreased – 137,133 last year to 111,793 this year – but thousands more school children are qualifying for the free-lunch program. This year, 850,248 students are eligible, up from 797,772 last year.
Mwanda attributed that growing gap to downward pressure on family income because of the slow economy.
“Households with a family of four are now falling below that $28,000 threshold and now becoming free eligible” instead of qualifying for the lower-cost meals, he said.
The free and reduced-price lunch program is funded mostly with federal dollars with some money from the state and local districts.
Georgia is sixth in the nation in participation in the free and reduced-price lunch program. Of the students who are eligible, about 76 percent actually enroll.