Congress recently passed the Keep Kids Fed Act, ensuring that all kids can continue to receive school meals at no charge through summer. This is a critical step to help prevent summer hunger, but starting this school year many children will be at risk.
Since 2020, federal child nutrition waivers ensured all students had access to school meals at no cost, significantly expanded summer meal programs, and provided crucial financial assistance to schools. When students return to school this year, many of these supports, including universal free meals, expire.
This means families must apply for free or reduced-price meals–a cumbersome process that does not reach every child in need and forces some kids to stand in a different line or receive different meals than their peers, which creates stigma and shame. It also means schools will have to dedicate limited resources to verify eligibility.
These challenges hit as families struggle with rising food costs and the ongoing infant formula shortage. Accounts from food service directors indicate how critical the expiring waivers are for helping them feed children as they face staffing shortages, supply chain issues, and financial challenges.
“If school meals for all at no charge ends… we simply won’t have the funds to reach all the children in need of food.”
School meal programs are a lifeline because children get up to half of their daily calories at school, and for many children, schools are the only consistent source of nutritious food. Last summer, Donna Martin, food service director of Burke Country Public Schools, partnered with bus companies to transport the boxes across Georgia to reach hungry families in need.
Other food service directors, like Lynn Harvey of North Carolina, also rely on school meal waivers to get students fed.
“Universal meals have been AMAZING! To take this away, especially during a time when the economy is as it is right now, would be devastating.”
If Congress doesn’t extend the child nutrition waivers, it will be up to states to take action. So far, California, Maine, and Vermont are stepping up to provide school meals for all free of charge for at least another year.
Read about how your state can do to enact change here.
Nutrition Directors Make the Case: School Meals for All!
Nationwide, more than 13 million children face food insecurity, meaning they don’t consistently have enough food to eat. For these kids and their families, school meals are often the difference between having enough to eat or going hungry.
For decades, school meals have been helping to prevent hunger and provide nutrients that kids need to learn and thrive. These meals are essential to tens of millions of children and families, especially those living furthest from economic opportunity.
Local Perspectives: Community Leaders Call For School Meals For All At No Charge
Read excerpts from three opinion-editorials authored by state community leaders who explain the importance of state policymakers taking action to support school meals for all at no charge.