OPINION: School lunches should be free

A small cost in the overall state budget would make for a positive change.



A quiet moment in the Strath Haven Cafeteria. After the free lunch program ended in 2022, families must now demonstrate a low income level to qualify for free lunches.

Yash Singh '23, Contributor

Congress ended the COVID-19 provision of free lunches for all schools in 2022, reverting to a system where low income families had to fill out paperwork about their income to determine eligibility for aid.

This raises the question: What requirements must a student reach to receive free lunch?

The National School Lunch Program provides free or low cost meals to students if they meet the preconditions. The requirements are the following: 1) the student’s family’s income must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty level, or 2) The school district must be located in a low-income area. 

Strath Haven is not located in a low-income area, which means students must meet the first requirement. 

According to benefits.gov, family income must fall below a threshold to qualify for the National School Lunch Program. For a family of four, that threshold is $51,338.

The median household income in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District is $129,625, according to 2021 U.S. Census data. However, 4.3 percent of residents in our district do fall below the poverty threshold. 

“I feel as if this is very hard to reach especially for families who fall just outside these requirements,” senior Frank Larderi said.

“Whether it’s the right decision [to end free lunches] is hard to say, because I wonder how many families really took advantage of it,” German teacher and Cultural Proficiency Leader Mr. Alex Paul said. “Even if they are affected, there still is [an] option to get free lunches.” 

Don’t be misled by the statistic that 49 percent of students in Pennsylvania are eligible for free lunch in 2023. This number is so high because of the many schools that are located in low-income areas, allowing a whole school to be eligible for free lunches without any consideration of any one family’s salary. 

Some Pennsylvania senators have proposed legislation to allow free lunches for all students again beginning with the 2023-2024 school year. According to Sen. Lindsey Williams of Allegheny County, providing free breakfast and lunch for all students in Pennsylvania every year would cost taxpayers $300 million annually—which is less than 1 percent of the state budget.

Members in our community might be right outside of the preconditions to receive free lunch and need free lunches more than some families living in low income areas. 

This makes it beneficial for Pennsylvania to feed every student for free at Strath Haven and every other public school, a small cost in the state’s budget that would create a large change.