Goshen County residents could feel impact of school lunch increase

TORRINGTON – Last week, Goshen County School District (GCSD) board members voted to approve a ten-cent school lunch and breakfast increase to $3.05 based on the recommendation of the food services department in response to the growing inflation woes, however, are local parents able and ready to pay for school lunches again without undue hardship?

I think not; my family included.

The pandemic brought many uncertainties, closures, disruptions to the way of life, and unfortunately, for some, it meant losing income and starting over. Many families here in rural America, particularly in Wyoming, are still struggling to get back on their feet following the very turbulent ride the pandemic had us on.

Last year, the federal government via the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) paid 100% for all school breakfasts and lunches, which meant no parent had to pay for a school lunch program. The USDA has provided schools with free breakfast and lunches for school children all summer long. This year, not only will parents have to pay for school lunch again, but it will also include a ten-cent increase – when Goshen County parents already pay double or more for school lunches compared to surrounding districts in other counties.

For instance, as of right now, Laramie County School District #1 pays $1.25 for a student school lunch, Laramie County School District #2 pays between $2.65 and $2.95 for a student lunch; like GCSD, both districts are expected to vote on increasing school lunches by ten-cents in the next couple of weeks. For the remaining schools in the neighboring Platte County School District, students pay between $2.60 and $2.70 for school lunches; they too are expected to vote on increasing school lunches by ten-cents. Niobrara County School District did not list its school meal price on its website.

However, new on its website, listed for the week of July 11, under the NCSD dining tab is a statement of compliance with the USDA and Biden Anti-Harassment, Anti-Discrimination Executive Order given to the USDA. Which is odd to me, given the fact NCSD opted out of the USDA FNS in 2016 for a self-sustaining food program. What has changed in seven years? Should other Wyoming school districts look into this?

Both Laramie County school districts and Platte County are expected to vote on noncompliance to the USDA SO/GI policy later this month.

A ten-cent increase may seem insignificant to most individuals, until you take into account: multiple children in a home; breakfast and lunch increases by ten-cents per child; inflation costs for housing/rent, gasoline, water, food, basic hygiene products and other goods/services; in addition to families still regaining their footing after layoffs, loss of income due to the pandemic and/or other financial burdens exasperated by the pandemic months. Current policies and inflation is essentially moving the true national poverty line to where those of us who are middle class currently are; most of us live within our means.

Like many in our community, my husband and I work hard, but we have humble salaries as we are middle class citizens – we also have three school age children. A ten-cent increase in Goshen County for a family of three for just lunch (not including breakfast or ala carte items) would be: $9.15 per day; $45.75 per week; $183 per month; or $1,647 dollars per nine month school year. $54 extra dollars a school calendar year, or $6 extra dollars a month might not seem like it would make or break a family, and ordinarily, it probably would not.

However, given that the cost of eggs tripled in price, and meat is almost four times higher than it was at the end of this last school year – with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) reporting consumer food prices for out-of-home dinning increased at least 9.1% from this time last year and “food at home” rose more than 12.2% from this time last year.

According to the latest CPI report, baking goods increased by at least 7.6%, snacking foods increased by at least 7.5%, dairy and eggs increased by at least 6.9% – with more rural areas being hit hardest with grocery price hikes.

Between the housing/rental inflation rate hikes, gasoline prices crisis and now groceries as well as hygiene products and utilities increasing in prices – how will some members of our community be able to afford school lunch, when $200 in groceries gets you less than half of what it got you this time last year? Or when Gas is more than triple of what it was this time last year? Our salaries are not increasing to reflect inflation, and many families don’t qualify for the district's free and reduced lunch simply due to current income restrictions and limitations – for example, those of us in the middle class sectors, especially if we have more than one working parent, are looking at the real possibility of food insecurity on already tightly budgeted family income; my family for certainty can’t even afford the school lunch rate of $2.95 before approving a ten-cent increase. That money is sucked up by my daily gas consumption, higher electricity and water rates and the never ending battle at the grocery store.

This is on top of not knowing what the full consequences will be with the USDA and Biden Administration regarding the new sexual orientation and gender identity (SO/GI) program – of which GCSD (and many other Wyoming school districts) opted to be noncompliant in.

Legally, theoretically, neither the USDA nor the Biden Administration has regulatory authority to withhold USDA School Lunch Program grants that schools nationwide, such as GCSD, rely on. GCSD has five USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) grants it still needs to approve already funded to the Wyoming Department of Education to be utilized in the 2022-2023 school year. These grants were on the agenda for last week, but due to time constraints and a lengthy, deserving, conversation regarding the SO/GI compliance vs noncompliance vote – they were not voted on.

This time last year, I was spending roughly $450 dollars to cover a month’s worth of “at home food” for my family of five. Just last week, I spent $450 dollars for food, which will only get us just about two weeks worth of meals. Nothing in my meal planning, coupon use nor frugalness has changed.

That means, for one month’s worth of food (keeping in mind that due to income restrictions, we do not qualify for SNAP, state or federal food assistance programs), we will be spending about $800 to $900 dollars in food, that’s on top of spending at least $500 or more in gasoline every two weeks: So, the $6 dollars extra a month or $54 dollars extra a school calendar year, it could absolutely mean something has to go and/or someone might have to eat less than recommended or needed. That extra money it would cost for school lunch (not including paying for breakfast/and or being able to provide breakfast and snacks before/at school) is already being absorbed (and then some) by paying higher grocery and gas prices. In all honesty, there are some of us in the middle of the middle class that might not be able to afford a ten-cent increase for school lunches. If I were a betting woman, I would wager that a significant portion of Goshen County parents are in this same boat, despite our college and/or trade school educated well paying jobs.

Although surely the district needed to adjust for the inflation of groceries – did it have to come in a form that directly impacts residents – not only for the student body population and their families, what about our teachers who also live on humble salaries? Could the district not look at its budget, of which the district is currently in the process of approving the fiscal year 2023 budget, to reappropriate funding from one source to another? Surely, there is another means to address the inflation of grocery prices to provide school lunches that doesn’t place the burden on already strapped parents, families and teachers.

This is yet again how poor fiscal responsibility, failed and/or flawed policies from the current presidential administration is directly impacting us regular Joe Smo Americans – and it’s hitting rural America the hardest due transportation costs to get to us. Perhaps we should take into consideration the recommendations of Wyoming State Treasurer Curt Meier, who is currently looking into and asking local providers, farmers and philanthropists to help out our food scarcity and insecurity problem here in Wyoming and Goshen County. Maybe we can wrangle Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon (or whomever may be voted in as Governor in November) to create a governor-appointed appropriations committee for the school food program sooner rather than later; similar to his gas committee that met last Friday and will meet again this Friday.

It takes a village to raise children and sometimes that village includes an entire community effort. What are other solutions we, as a community, could drum up to ensure each child is fed and that no family suffers any further financial hardship? Email your ideas to reporter A. Marie Hamilton at [email protected]


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