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: 'All of this is putting parents in a bind': Sharp rise in lunch meat prices increases pressure on parents to return to school

Back-to-school season is damaging parents’ nerves — and their wallets. They now face another financial challenge: lunch meat is getting more expensive.

The price of lunch meat rose 18% in July compared to a year earlier, according to the Labor Department. That was higher than the 13% annual price increase for groceries, the largest increase since 1979.

Ham prices rose 9.2% in July from a year earlier, while prices for bacon, breakfast sausages and similar products rose 11.7%. At the start of the school year, parents started buying more cooked meat, said Brian Earnest, chief animal protein economist at CoBank, a private credit provider for the rural economy. The price of a typical lunch sandwich (two ounces of ham and one ounce of cheese) was about $1.65 in July, up 39% from a year earlier, Ernest wrote in a research note.

What’s behind the surge in price? Cooked meat is a labor-intensive industry that requires many workers to process raw meat, and labor shortages in the domestic hog industry have had a huge impact on supply, Earnes Te said. The avian flu outbreak earlier this year that affected a variety of poultry products – including eggs and turkey breast – also adversely affected the lunch meat market. “All of this puts parents in a bind,” Ernest wrote in the report, as many parents consider ham and turkey sandwiches to be the most economical and convenient option for packed lunches. He added that while alternatives like peanut butter and jelly might be cheaper, many schools banned peanuts due to allergy concerns.

” Many low-income households report changing their eat to keep up with rising costs. Others tap their savings to pay their bills. ”

The price is generally on the rise. The government reported earlier this month that the consumer price index rose 8.5% in July from a year earlier, down from 9.1% in June. Inflation has made this back-to-school season even more difficult, with parents already feeling the pressure from rising school supplies and clothing costs. Rising childcare costs are also putting additional pressure on working parents’ budgets as many companies bring employees back into the office. Many low-income households report changing their diets to accommodate rising costs, while others tap their savings to pay their bills.

Parents change buying habits

Consumers buy items like canned tuna, chicken and even beans instead of cooked meat, Walmart WMT, -3.14% Chief Financial Officer John David Rainey said on an earnings call last week. He said on Aug. 16: “Over time, we have seen a more pronounced consumer shift and price-cutting activity.” For example, instead of buying higher-priced deli meat, customers have increased Buy hot dogs as canned tuna or chicken. ” Walmart did not respond to a request for comment. Two days later, Robert Eddy, CEO and President of BJ’s Wholesale Club BJ -1.35% , tell investors their own cooked meat prices Remaining strong, even though customers are also buying alternatives. “We’ve seen a more pronounced consumer shift and price-cutting activity over time,” he said. “For example, customers are no longer buying pricier Instead of deli meats, buy hot dogs and canned tuna or chicken instead. BJ’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The increase in lunch meat prices also comes at a time when many parents are dealing with the end of the universal school lunch program. In March 2020, Congress approved A series of school meal waivers that allow public schools to offer free breakfast and lunch, even during the summer. National parent and family advocacy group ParentsTogether warned its 3 million parent members in June about the end of the program While part of the program was extended by a bill that President Biden signed into law this summer, universal free school meals were not extended and ended before the upcoming school year. That means the system will resume How it worked until the pandemic. “Schools have some flexibility during COVID so they can provide free meals to all children. Some of these options have expired, so many schools can no longer provide all meals for free,” according to the Department of Agriculture’s website. “Instead, families will do what they did before COVID. The school will accept applications and use household income to qualify children for free, [reduced price] or paid meals. “

New challenges for back-to-school season

In 2019, nearly 68% of students received free lunches through the National School Lunch Program, according to The Wall Street Journal , 5.7% of students received low-priced lunches. Food prices remain a top concern for many families, especially since universal school feeding programs help so many families, says Alison Johnson, campaign director for ParentsTogether Said. With schools reopening after the summer, “making sure kids don’t go hungry at school is a big issue for a lot of families,” Johnson told MarketWatch. From now on, only eligible families will be — Household income at or below 130% of the poverty line — to be eligible for free school meals for their children. Johnson says many families don’t know they have to fill out the paperwork first, and earn only slightly more annually Families above the threshold are also struggling to feed their children. She added: “With food prices rising, they are now worrying about paying for these meals for the first time in years. “

School lunch costs add up Democratic candidate for Arkansas House seat Rachel Cox tweeted She wrote, citing information given during her open house, that it could cost as much as $140 a month for breakfast and lunch for just one child a day. Son’s school. “I see many that don’t The look of panic in the eyes of parents who realize the Free Lunch program is over,” she tweeted. Several state legislatures are working to expand their own versions of the Free School Meals program. California became No. 1 this month 1 state that provides free school meals to all public school students. At the federal level, Republican lawmakers blocked a bill extending the national version, citing concerns about fiscal responsibility. As a 3 Father of 6-year-olds and 6-year-olds, Earnest said, figuring out what to prepare for this back-to-school season can be very stressful. “Just add a higher price at the deli counter,” he said.



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