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JoAnna Lund

If you have a school-aged child, you may be aware that school meals are free for all students this school year regardless of household income due to a federally funded U.S. Department of Agriculture program. While this is excellent for ensuring Minnesota kids will get the nutrition they need to thrive while weathering yet another pandemic school year, it may also mean that fewer families are filling out the Application for Educational Benefits (AEB). I’m writing to ask for your help there.

The AEB, sometimes referred to as the Free and Reduced-Price Meals form or application, is a household form for families enrolled in any Minnesota school district. In a non-pandemic year, this program covers the cost of school meals for qualifying families – but in any year (including this one), this application provides much more than just free meals. The application generates funding for districts, schools, students and families – including personal benefits like free bus cards, discounted internet services, and discounted fees associated with athletics, standardized tests and college applications, and much more.

I lead Second Harvest Heartland’s Child Hunger team, and we want to help make all public school families aware of the application’s benefits for both families and schools.

When families fill out the AEB form and qualify, not only do they receive direct personal benefits outlined above, but it also helps fund important districtwide and schoolwide technology resources, student support services, field trips, and more. When everyone fills out the AEB, schools are better equipped to provide all students with the high-quality education they deserve.

If households do not qualify for any benefits, there is no penalty or risk in applying – and you can reapply at any point in the school year if income changes for any reason. Eligibility is good for one school year, which is why it’s important to fill it out every year, to ensure that both your family and your school district are receiving the maximum benefits.

Contact your local school district today and ask about the AEB/free and reduced meal form. The deadline to fill out, complete and return the 2021-22 AEB is Oct. 15, 2021.

If everyone fills out the AEB this year, coupled with statewide free school meals, Minnesota kids are on track to being as well-fed and educated as possible.

If you don’t have school-aged kids in the Minnesota public school system, please encourage those who do, such as your friends, family and neighbors, to fill out the form so our families and schools get all the resources they need to succeed.

JoAnna Lund is the Child Hunger Program Manager at Second Harvest Heartland, a Brooklyn Park-based food bank that works to support the 1 in 10 Minnesotans facing hunger across its 41 county-service area through food distributions and hunger-fighting policies and programs.

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