Nonprofits urging Congress to extend school meal waivers during pandemic

The Highlights
  • Waivers allowing schools to give out free meals regardless of a family’s income status are set to expire June 30.
  • Nonprofits are that worried without these benefits, more children could face food insecurity.
  • There is a new bipartisan effort in the Senate to extend these school waivers until the fall of 2023.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Millions of children are at risk of losing free meals at school nationwide.

Congress approved waivers allowing schools to give out free meals regardless of a family’s income status at the beginning of the pandemic, but those benefits are set to expire June 30.

Nonprofits say without these benefits, they’re worried more children could face food insecurity especially as inflation and supply chain issues drive up grocery costs.

“So a bad situation could be a whole lot worse if not for school meals, which have really mitigated some of the profound impact on kids and families,” said Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

These meal waivers give school districts the flexibility to pass out grab-and-go meals for students or serve meals in the classrooms.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Food Research & Action Center are urging Congress to extend these benefits for another school year.

Congress didn’t extend those benefits in its most recent spending bill last month.

Some Republicans in House Education and Labor Committee believe the program shouldn’t continue.

“I have serious concerns about extending these waivers given the lessening of the pandemic’s impact. For some time, I have pushed all stakeholders involved to prepare to return to normal operation and respect that taxpayers’ unprecedented support of these programs over the last two years cannot be unlimited,” said Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) in a statement to the Washington News Bureau.

But advocates say these waivers are still necessary even in the summer.

“It’s also allowed every single community across the country to open these sites and provide meals to families and kids who need them, and we saw summer participation go up by over 100% nationally,” said Crystal FitzSimons, who leads child nutrition programs for the Food Research & Action Center.

There is a new bipartisan effort in the Senate to extend these school waivers until the fall of 2023. This legislation would also require schools to develop plans for transitioning back to normal meal operations.