Student meal debt is rising rapidly in many school districts across the country. The reason: now that federal funding that made school meals free for all students during the pandemic has ended, families are either struggling to pay for school meals or aren’t even aware that the program ended and they are now obligated to pay, according to a report by Education Week.

The end of universal free school meals comes as inflation and rising labor costs are driving up food prices for both schools and families.

Already, students in the Mead 46-1 school district in South Dakota have racked up $5,000 in school meal debt only two months into the school year. That’s more than the $4,500 in lunch debt that the district usually accumulates over the course of an average school year.

In Pitt County Schools, in Greenville, N.C., parents collectively owe the district $28,000 for school meals this academic year, according to the local ABC News affiliate. The district enrolls around 23,000 students.

The 13,000-student Bonneville Joint School District No. 93 in Idaho already has $6,000 in school debt this academic year, according to NBC News. And in Michigan, a majority of food service directors in the state said they are experiencing high levels of student lunch debt.

The national School Nutrition Association confirmed that members from across the country are reporting that student meal debt is rapidly accruing. The association also pointed out that food service directors are struggling to educate families about the growing debt and the need to apply for free and reduced-priced lunches, if they are eligible. This is an issue that the School Nutrition Association, which has lobbied to keep school meals free for all students, warned of prior to the expiration of the federal waivers which had previously made school meals automatically free to all students.

Low-income families still qualify for free and reduced priced lunches, but now parents must fill out paperwork to get those free lunches, which creates a hurdle. Many districts have been reaching out to notify families that federal waivers were going to expire for months, as they also encouraged them to apply for assistance. Reminders were sent through the mail, posted on social media sites and sent home with kids. Some districts even called individual families, and some started angel funds in which donors can help pay for school meal debt.

But none of these are long-term solutions. Which is why some food service directors are asking their legislators for help in formulating a plan to deal with the student meal debt. States that continue providing school meals to all students, like California and Maine, have passed laws providing free school meals to all students regardless of income.

And in a sign of what’s to come in California and nationwide, an Urban Institute poll found that nearly 70% of adults support making free school meals for all students a permanent policy.