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Lawmakers attempt to extend child nutrition waivers

“With 90% of our schools still facing challenges as they return to normal operations, this will give our schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to deal with ongoing food service issues,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
Names of students are written the plexiglass on each students assigned seat as fourth graders seperated by plexiglass and seated at proper social distancing spacing while they eat lunch in the cafeteria at the Milton Elementary School, Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Rye, N.Y. Mary Altaffer/ AP

Story at a glance

  • A group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced new legislation that aims to extend a pandemic-era school meal waiver program. 

  • The program allowed schools to offer free or low-cost meals to students and lowered eligibility requirements. 

  • The current waiver program is set to expire on June 30, with only days left for Congress to act and potentially extend it. 

Efforts are underway to make school lunches free for nearly all students just days before a federal school meal waiver program is set to expire. The new legislation could keep millions of school children from going hungry this summer. 

The Keep Kids Fed Act was introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and is an attempt to extend critical school meal waivers, a process that enables the federal government to reimburse schools for meals while also governing how meals are served and who’s eligible for them. 

The current waiver program was established as part of pandemic relief efforts in 2020 and is set to expire on June 30. The new act hopes to extend that deadline by three months — up until September 30. 

Providing discounted or free meals became critical for many families during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many children come to rely on their schools for consistent, nutritious meals.  

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Lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urged funding for the school meal waiver program to be included in the yearly omnibus spending bill — but it ultimately was left out. 

Now, lawmakers are hoping to fund the program through new legislation, as soaring inflation is making it harder for schools and families to source affordable meals.  

“With 90% of our schools still facing challenges as they return to normal operations, this will give our schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to deal with ongoing food service issues. Congress needs to act swiftly to pass this critical help,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, in a statement

The Keep Kids Fed Act aims to give the USDA temporary authority to provide summer meals to all students for free, eliminate the reduced-price meal category and increase reimbursement rates to help offset rising food costs. 

Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, applauded the new legislation effort and emphasized it would, “offer families much needed stability, predictability and assurance that children will be better able to get the meals they need through the coming year.” 

The legislation still needs to pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law by President Biden.  

A report by No Kid Hungry found that if the school meal waiver program was not extended, it could jeopardize access to summer meals for nearly 7 million children. Summer is a unique time for many students as it marks the end of the academic year and at the same time, they lose access to free and low-cost meals.  

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