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Pandemic expansion of free school lunch program to end soon straining some families

Published: Mar. 14, 2022 at 7:09 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Rising gas prices, more expensive groceries, and now another financial hit for many families in North Dakota: no more free school lunches for all students.

Congress did not renew funding for the waivers that were introduced during the pandemic that make it easier for all of them to be fed at school — no matter their family’s income.

“Every penny counts and there’s very little, if any, discretionary money,” said Jim Barnhardt, executive director and founder of Dream Center Bismarck.

And now for some families, this is news that is coming at the worst time.

While prices on almost everything are skyrocketing straining many families in North Dakota, Congress is now stopping a pandemic program that provided free lunches to all students.

Beginning June 10, a family of three must earn less than roughly $30,000 to qualify for the free school lunch program.

But as executive director and founder of the non-profit Dream Center Bismarck, Jim Barnhardt says some families who are not considered low income are struggling right now, and that free lunch has been a huge help.

“They are working lower-paying jobs or have medical bills or other bills to contend with. And pretty soon they come to the end of the month and there’s just no money left to purchase food or pay the utilities, or whatever else they have to take care of,” said Barnhardt.

Barnhardt, whose organization serves food to those in need, says he is seeing an increase in the number of people who need help,

“The number of households that are coming through our line is strong for this time of the month. Last week we had 521 households. Normally mid-month, we’re looking at about 475,” said Barnhardt.

And Barnhardt expects that number to continue after the free school lunch program ends in June.

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