Families brace for changes to pandemic-era free school meals | Lifestyle

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ESSEX, Vt. (AP) — Before the pandemic, there was no room in the budget for Kate Murphy’s children to buy lunch at school. She and her husband would buy in bulk and make bag lunches at home. So the free school meals that were made available to students nationwide amid the crisis have brought welcome relief, especially since her husband lost his job last year at a bakery company that closed.

The free meals gave the Essex Junction, Vermont, family one less thing to worry about.

“We make just too much money (literally by just a few dollars) to qualify for free or reduced lunches and other food-related benefits, but not enough to truly ever feel financially comfortable,” Murphy, a mother of four and administrator at a trust company, said by email.

The pandemic-era federal aid that made school meals available for free to all public school students — regardless of family income levels — is ending, raising fears about the effects in the upcoming school year for families already struggling with rising food and fuel costs.

For families already strained by inflation and the end of other federal help like expanded child tax credits, advocates say cuts to the aid could mean turning more frequently to food banks.

“Families across the country are facing a very difficult reality of having to chose between feeding their kids or filling up their gas tank or purchasing medicine,” said Vince Hall, chief government relations officer for Feeding America, a nonprofit network of foodbanks.

The rules are set to revert to how they were before the coronavirus pandemic with families that are eligible based on income levels required to apply for their children to receive free or reduced-price lunch. Schools in predominantly low-income areas will be allowed to serve breakfast and lunch to everyone for free, as before.

Since waiving the eligibility…