Children across the Champaign-Urbana metro area have access to free meals at school, thanks to a federal program initiated during the pandemic
All students in the area’s two largest public school districts — Champaign Unit 4 Schools and Urbana 116 — will have access to free lunch and breakfast at school this year.
Parents can keep some extra cash in their pockets when their children head back to school, as many districts will be covering the costs of school meals for the upcoming school year.
Thanks to a nationwide waiver provided by the federal government that was implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, students across the country will have access to free meals for the 21-22 school year.
The policy created by the USDA Food and Nutrition Services initially started in the spring of 2020, when kids were sent home from schools due to the pandemic. The USDA extended the program through the summer of 2021, and has now been approved through June of 2022.
Stacey Moore, Chief Communications Officer for Champaign Unit 4 Schools, says Unit 4 will be among the school districts to utilize the waiver.
“Based on the exceptional circumstances of this public health emergency, the USDA has established a waiver to allow schools to provide universal free meals to children 18 and younger during the 21-22 school year,” said Moore. “Therefore, Unit 4 students will receive free meals this school year.”
Families do not need to complete any paperwork to receive the free meals, according to Champaign Unit 4 Food Service.
Other districts in Champaign-Urbana area districts offering universal free meals to all students this year include Unit 7 Schools and Heritage Community Schools (both in the southern portion of Champaign County).
The program is funded through a federal reimbursement and offers support and flexibility for school food services, allowing students access to free meals.
The initiative not only supports families with additional financial assistance but also enables safer social distancing measures. The increased flexibilities will also allow schools to offer lunches in virtual or remote learning situations.
It’s estimated that the program could save families about $600 per student annually.
Urbana School District 116 has provided free meals for all students since 2018, through an established USDA Community Eligibility Program (CEP). All USD #116 schools participate, which provides breakfasts and lunches each day at no charge to ALL students. CEP allows schools that serve a predominantly low-income population to offer free meals to all students.
Rantoul City Schools also participate in the CEP program.
To find out if your children have access to free school meals, contact your district’s food service program.
Find more information about Back to School in Champaign-Urbana metro area.