There are two main ways school lunch debt is created.
As we’ve been working on finding and paying off school lunch debt we’ve also been learning ways it’s created. The debt is largely located on individual student accounts. This is because every meal that gets served is to get tracked and charged to kids accounts.
There are two basic ways debt builds on student accounts:
The family makes too much to be on the program
A form is never completed to be on the program
Here are some stories.
Bit #1 • Just a bit too much
Mom makes $30 too much a month to be on the subsidized ($.40 per lunch) program. However, the difference between subsidized lunch ($2/week, $8/month) and real lunch ($18.30/week, $73.20/month) is more than $30. This puts strain on the household budget.
Through trial and error or hearsay, Mom learns the school feeds all students whether there is money on their accounts or not. They do this because they are charged to feed the community. The balance of the student meal account is not kept up with. Resources are allocated to other efforts.
However, the school keeps track of each meal for each student. They do this so they can run a solvent program, make projections, know syrup day are x amount bigger than others and so they will be reimbursed by government agencies.
The result for these families is that the student eats lunch (and maybe breakfast too) and little by little, as the balance is tracked, it grows.
Bit #2 • No form
Dad has been working really hard to not be poor or be seen as poor. He’s proud and does not want to take a government hand out much less fill out a form that says he’s poor and needs help. So he doesn’t fill out the form.
In some cases people don’t fill out the form because they can’t read english or know they could or need to fill it to apply. etc. Whatever the reason is, the form does not get turned in.
Bit #3 No form, modified
This is a variation on #2. Things are going well enough in a family at the beginning of the school year. Then things go bad. Something happens. Dad loses his job, etc.
Somehow they either don’t know they can nor do they complete an application. And, they ignore the student account balance.
The line for who qualifies has to be set somewhere. It’s going to be hard for families that barrely don’t qualify regardless of the where the lines is. However, the higher it is the less hard it’s going to be.
The forms for application pose hurdles in communication and marketing as well as psychologically and administratively. It also determines how much debt is created (and is spent on the program, ultimately written off, etc.).