SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Families are back to paying for meals at public schools.

A pandemic-era program that provided free meals ended this summer.

The Sioux Falls Falls School District is encouraging families to apply for free and reduced meals.

Before the pandemic, nearly 50 percent of students in the Sioux Falls School District were on free or reduced meals.

Now that number is closer to 40 percent.

“It does tell us that we still have that need for many more applications to come in, so we’re really putting a push on that right now,” SFSD child nutrition coordinator Gay Anderson said.

Gay Anderson, the district’s child nutrition coordinator, says some of that is due to families having to get back onto the swing of applying for free and reduced meals.

“I even had someone recently say, ‘Oh, we’re paying for meals again.’ It’s easy to forget,” Anderson said.

Anderson says another reason for the decrease could be people aren’t qualifying for the USDA program because of higher wages.

Still, the district wants to see families applying.

“We’re even encouraging families that might think they’re just on the bubble. Go ahead and try and just see if there’s anything there,” Anderson said.

Nikkie Duin is the principal at Anne Sullivan Elementary.

“We have some students with an $87 balance right now and those could’ve been zero because we know some of those families do qualify for free and reduced lunch,” Anne Sullivan principal Nikkie Duin said.

Families can apply online or fill out a paper application.

“Our message is please apply because this is a benefit for you that you won’t have to pay for lunches for the entire year if you qualify for free and reduced lunch,” Duin said.

While you can always apply for free or reduced meals, Anderson says there is a deadline coming up for some families in the school district.

For students who did apply for free or reduced meals last year for benefit reasons, the grace period of free meals ends on October 7th.

You’ll need to reapply.