The Child Nutrition Act funds school meals. Government reimbursement for student meals has always been barely enough to cover costs. With recent price increases for food and fuel, the government allotment is not enough for school cafeterias to break even.

After labor and overhead costs, only about $1 of the money the government provides for a free lunch remains to pay for the food.

SFUSD's Student Nutrition Services department (SNS) spends about 35 cents more per lunch than it receives, resulting in a $1.5 million deficit this year.

The SNS deficit will have to be made up out of the school district's General Fund, leaving less money for teachers, books, and other classroom expenses.

The school meal funding level for high cost of living areas like San Francisco needs to be increased.

The federal government provides $2.59 per free lunch served in all of the 48 contiguous states, but Alaska and Hawaii get more - schools in Hawaii get $3.04, while those in Alaska get a whopping $4.20.

This is because of the higher cost of bringing food and supplies into these two remote states, but costs are higher than average here in San Francisco too; nationwide only NYC has a high cost of living than SF.

The federal government is aware that the cost of living is higher here, and they pay federal employees here a differential to make up for their higher living expenses.

The income ceiling for eligibility for free meals needs to be raised in high cost of living areas like SF.

A family of 4 with two adults each working 40 hours per week at jobs paying SF’s minimum wage, earn too much to qualify for free meals for their children.

The cutoff for eligibility for this family in 2009 is $39,220, but their 40 hour work weeks at SF's minimum wage of $9.79 an hour earn them $40,726.

According to The Insight Center for Community Economic Development, the self sufficiency standard (amount of income necessary to live without government assistance) for this family of four in SF is about $52,500.

Raising the limit on how much a family can earn and still qualify for free lunch to a more realistic level here in SF, like $50,000 instead of $39,220, could enable thousands of low income children to qualify, and bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional government funds to help pay for higher quality food.


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Page last updated Monday November 02, 2009