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Will School Meals for All End This Summer?

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July 7th, 2022


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.

"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."

Leah Feagin, Food Service Director, Mayfield Independent School District

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.

"I could not begin to do this if I didn’t have USDA funding."

Donna Martin, Food Service Director, Burke County Public Schools

Other food service directors, like Lynn Harvey of North Carolina, also rely on school meal waivers to get students fed.

If Congress doesn’t extend the child nutrition waivers, it will be up to states to take action. So far, California6, Maine7, and Vermont8 are stepping up to provide school meals for all free of charge for at least another year.

Read about how your state can enact change.

"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."

Lynn Harvey, Director of School Nutrition and District Operations, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

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