Schools can serve free meals this summer thanks to Congress’ extension Friday of nutrition waivers that kept children fed on and off campus during the pandemic. And students with a family income at or below 185% of the poverty level will qualify for free or reduced-cost meals through the 2022-23 school year. Reimbursements will be increased by 40 cents for each lunch and 15 cents for each breakfast served.
Pandemic-era waivers are set to expire on June 30. The bipartisan Keep Kids Fed Act approved in Congress Friday is not as expansive as the previous flexibilities but will also:
- Waive eligibility so summer providers can serve all children for free, including services such as meal delivery and grab-and-go;
- Extend some administrative and paperwork flexibilities for the 2022-23 school year;
- Provide an additional 10 cents per meal or snack for Child and Adult Care Food Program daycares and home providers, and expand eligibility to more providers.
“As schools are feeling the pain of the current inflation and supply chain crises, it is imperative our students can still access the nutrition they need,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). “This solution will help our school meal programs return to normal operations, so the children who need it the most can access nutritious meals to fuel their healthy development.”
The Alliance to End Hunger called the Keep Kids Fed Act a critical piece of legislation that will guarantee that low-income children are fed this summer and next school year. The measure will also help schools cope with supply chain disruptions, increased costs, and rising inflation, the organization said.
“The pandemic is far from over and families continue to need nutritional support, particularly Black, Latino and Indigenous families who disproportionately lack reliable access to healthy food and have been hardest hit with food insecurity,” said Eric Mitchell, the Alliance’s executive director.
Others praised the extension of the universal free meals program through the summer but criticized its provisions for the coming school year. Congress should work with the Biden Administration to extend waivers throughout 2022-23 and to make other, long-term improvements to provide students with access to healthy meals in the fall, said Denise Forte, interim CEO of The Education Trust, an equity advocacy organization.
“While the Keep Kids Fed Act does not go far enough to make sure that students who face hunger–particularly, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds–have consistent and equitable access to high-quality, nutritious meals while we are still amid a pandemic, this legislation is a critical first step toward ensuring that no student goes hungry over the summer,” Forte said in a statement.