Reduced-Price Lunch Copay Funding: What Is It and What Does It Do?

Last week, H1023, Coronavirus Relief Fund/Additions & Revisions, passed the NC General Assembly unanimously. Among other things, H1023:

  • Eliminates the reduced-price lunch copay in North Carolina! All students who qualify for reduced-price lunch will receive free lunch starting in August. This impacts more than 63,000 students receiving reduced-price lunch.
  • Requires the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to submit a report that determines the percentage of students who qualify for and participate in reduced-price meals, the total amount of debt each local school administrative unit (LEA) has related to unpaid meal charges, and how LEAs approach unpaid meal charges. The report must also detail options for a statewide policy for a uniform response to unpaid meal charges that does not prevent students from receiving nutritious meals.
  • Includes funding for innovative school meals and to allow School Nutrition Programs to continue to operate yellow buses for meal delivery throughout the summer.

NCAH is pleased this provision was included, but we also want to acknowledge that this is only one step. We know that universal meals are the most equitable option. In no other part of school do we ask for a parent’s income and then determine what the child gets and what the family will have to pay. Many students who need a healthy school meal do not apply for free- or reduced-price lunch even though they qualify. Some families may not know they are eligible, are afraid to utilize a benefit program due to immigration status, or think their children will not eat school meals. Also, some families find it difficult to pay full-price but don’t qualify for reduced-price meals. And, we don’t know the full cost of eliminating the reduced-price lunch copay, so the provision is only for one year, for now.

Still, every student who needs a healthy school meal should have one and we are hopeful this policy will help ensure that happens.

This success was made possible because Senior Appropriations Chairman Representative Jason Saine and Appropriations Chairman Senator Brent Jackson were champions for School Nutrition Programs. NCAH worked closely with NC PTA, Self-Help, School Nutrition Association of North Carolina, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, MomsRising, Food Insight Group, and others to support the work of School Nutrition Programs in North Carolina.

You can see coverage of this important issue here: