- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Omaha school district is considering expanding a pilot program that provided free meals to all students in six schools, regardless of the children’s ability to pay.

Omaha district officials described the initial rollout in January as successful, the Omaha World-Herald (http://bit.ly/1FVNo1v ) reported. Families didn’t have to worry about how they would pay for their children’s lunch, and school staff could focus more on food prep and less on collecting money.

Since the school year is done, officials want to explore how to spread the free lunch program to more campuses, said Tammy Yarmon, the district’s nutrition services director.

Omaha was one of two districts in Nebraska to participate in a federal initiative, called the Community Eligibility Provision, this year that pushed for schools with high concentrations of low-income students to serve free meals to all. Schools can participate in the program if at least 40 percent of their students already receive public benefits, such as food stamps or welfare.

In Iowa, participating districts included Council Bluffs and Des Moines.

The federal initiative allows districts to serve free meals to all without requiring them to collect the usual free and reduced-price meal applications that eligible families have to fill out at the beginning of each school year.

Advocates of the program say it ensures that no students go hungry during the school day, especially those whose families are too embarrassed to apply for lunch subsidies. Federal meal reimbursements cover the cost of the meals.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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