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W.Va. child feeding programs rapidly expanding

Charleston Gazette photo by F. Brian Ferguson Josiah Lawrence (left) and Avery Adkins (right) make their choice of healthy lunch items during Thursday’s USDA Summer Food Service Program at Elk Elementary Center.
Charleston Gazette photo by F. Brian Ferguson
Josiah Lawrence (left) and Avery Adkins (right) make their choice of healthy lunch items during Thursday’s USDA Summer Food Service Program at Elk Elementary Center.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia officials say expanding programs to feed needy children and some adults caused the state this fiscal year to exceed its usual annual request of $113 million in federal money for that purpose.

State Office of Child Nutrition Director Rick Goff said he believes the biggest contributor to the rising expenditures is the state’s “skyrocketing” participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s School Breakfast Program.

The percentage of West Virginia students deemed needy has been increasing, but not as fast as the percentage of students eating free and reduced breakfast or paying for breakfast, according to the office’s data.

About 60 percent of all of West Virginia’s school-aged children — 173,000 statewide — qualify for free or reduced-price meals because their family incomes, if they have a family at all, are below or nearly below the federal poverty level.

“For the first time in history, we have counties where the breakfast participation is exceeding lunch participation,” Goff said.

That trend comes alongside the increasing number of whole schools and entire counties in the Mountain State providing free meals to all of their students, low-income or not, through a federal program West Virginia signed onto in 2012-13.

Also contributing was the new state requirement this academic year, backed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and recently upheld by the state school board, that school districts provide students 180 separate instructional days. The lack of forgiveness for days missed due to snow and other reasons has pushed the end of the school year for some districts as far into the summer as next week, meaning more meals are being served…

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