Unemployment hikes free, reduced lunch applications - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Unemployment hikes free, reduced lunch applications

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It's another sign of the tough economy and it is visible in school lunch rooms all across South Georgia. Free lunch programs are run by the Department of Agriculture provide affordable lunches to students based on their household incomes.

And with such high unemployment, more students are having to depend on them for nourishment. 

More students than ever before are eating free and reduced lunches at Tift County schools.

"Last year it was at 58% which I considered to be high. This year it is up to 65% free or reduced lunch,"  said Tift County Nutrition Director Lisa Nicholson.

Tift county serves more than six-thousand lunches a day adding up to more than a million meals a year. "We serve an average of about 88% for lunch and 35% for breakfast," said Nicholson.

And that number could go up if unemployment numbers continue to rise. "Employment, but maybe less hours, Maybe one parent may be unemployed as before they were both working. There are always a few applications that come in where there is now employment," said Nicholson.

"I do want parents to know that they can apply for free or reduced benefits at any time during the school year. They can redo an application if they have a change in income."

The school is working hard to make sure that families who are eligible for the benefits apply.

"I have taken forms to the Labor Department. So they are available there. If an employer knows that they will see layoffs I can take forms to that work site."

They know how important it is for students to be well-fed. "It does benefit their academic performance. Their health for a lifetime. Their attendance, and behavior."

Especially at a time when the food they receive from the lunch line may be the only meal they eat that day.

Parents in need can apply for assistance at any time during the school year.

But students already on the program in households that have seen an increase in their annual income have 10 days to notify their school system of the changes.