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Why are so many families behind on school lunch debt? It’s complicated

The Granite School District is one of many in Utah with large amounts of unpaid school lunch debt. Photo: Getty Images

Many Utah school districts are grappling with hundreds of thousands of dollars in school lunch debt — but they could be eligible for help they’re just not requesting.

That’s according to Ben Horsley, spokesman for the Granite School District. As of May, Horsley said Granite had $750,000 in outstanding school lunch debt. On Dave & Dujanovic Tuesday, he said it’s still an issue statewide.

“I want to be clear, this isn’t just a Granite School district problem,” Horsley said. “There are 41 school districts in the state of Utah and they all struggle with the same thing: individual families who are unwilling to get on the free and reduced program, and at the same time are unwilling to pay their lunch balances.”

Horsley said that by the end of last school year their deficit grew to almost a million dollars.

“Roughly 60% of our students are eligible for free and reduced lunch,” Horsley says, “[but] that doesn’t mean that they all participate or apply.”

If those students did apply, it could help everyone, he says, because their lunch fees could be waived and the district would be reimbursed.

This year, Horsley says the district’s lunch debt problem has been improving, but he says when they are left with a deficit at the end of the year, that money comes out of the general fund.

“At the end of the day, I’m not going to let a kid go hungry or give them a ‘sun-butter’ sandwich and make them feel like less of a kid,” he said.

To see if your family qualifies for free or reduced lunch, Horsley recommended filling out a one-page online form that can be found here.