The end of the school year brings new financial concerns for thousands of low-income families in the D.C. region—school lunch debt.
For families who owe more than $50 in Prince William County, their names will be turned over to collections.
"One thing that's really important to us in Prince William County Public Schools is that every child gets a healthy meal. A hungry child is not going to be able to learn, but that can wind up costing the schools some money. So, when the parents are unable to pay, the schools foot the bill," said Phil Kavits, Communications Director for PWC Public Schools.
Every child who wants a meal gets a meal, regardless of their ability to pay, he said. But each time a child gets an unpaid meal, the debt accrues to the family's account. At the end of the school year, if that debt is more than $50 for a family, it is sent to collections.
"That can really hurt a family. It hurts their credit rating. It causes undo stress. It's something that can be really devastating to a family's finances," said Adelle Settle, who is a Prince William County mom of a two-year-old.
She inquired about the school system's lunch debt after hearing about other parts of the country that "shame" children who can't pay or even refuse them meals. She was happy to find out the shaming and meal refusal wasn't happening in her community, but wanted to help relieve the financial burden of those families.
"If we can actually pay off the $160,000 that headed to collections, that would be an amazing accomplishment," said Settle.