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Pa. Department of Education releases free school lunch guidelines

Free or reduced school lunches will be determined by the needs of individual families, rather than the universal program used earlier in the pandemic.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — On Friday, the PA Department of Education announced its new eligibility guidelines for free and reduced school lunches

Starting this school year, free school lunches for kids will be determined by the needs of individual families, this moves away from the USDA’s universal free meals program from early in the pandemic.

Local advocates say the change could negatively impact some families.

“The inflation is outpacing wages and the rising food costs," said Christine Drexler, the President of Cocoa Packs. "It creates more need.”

Cocoa Packs is a Hershey-based nonprofit that helps provide food for over 1,300 children in Central PA.

Drexler says under the new guidelines, a family of four with an income of over $51,339 would not be eligible for any discounted school meals. She says the new rules will put more pressure on families still trying to recover from the pandemic.

“There’s already so much weight and to add another one, you’re carrying this load and you’re carrying it every week and it’s just never enough," said Drexler. "So, this is just like a domino effect.”

Drexler says she and her volunteers will continue to provide food to families through the summer and during the school year. She says continued support from the community will allow Cocoa Packs to keep assisting children in need.

“Donations are critically important for us to continue the good work our organization is doing," said Drexler.

Families who want to receive free or discounted school meals need to fill out an application on Pennsylvania’s COMPASS website.

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