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.
Congress recently passed the Keep Kids Fed Act 1, 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 expanded2 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.3 It also means schools will have to dedicate limited resources to verify eligibility.
These challenges hit as families struggle with rising food costs4 and the ongoing infant formula shortage5. 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.