‘Going to be catastrophic’: Universal free school lunches ending June 30

Education

(NewsNation) — Beginning July 1, a series of pandemic-era federal waivers that made school meals universally free, regardless of economic status, will expire.

Since former President Donald Trump signed the COVID-19 aid package in 2020, about 10 million additional students were able to eat free school meals regularly. Millions more received after-school dinners and families were given additional flexibility to pick up meals for their kids.

Without a congressional extension, access to these critical meals could disappear for some families who rely on them.

Dr. Katie Wilson, executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance, said this move comes in the middle of their summer meals program. After the waivers expire on June 30, she said they won’t have school meals for children unless they identify what their income level is in their family setting.

“A lot of small, faith-based, community-based organizations also do summer meals, and a lot of them have said no, not this year because it’s just not stable enough for us. We don’t know whether we’re going to be able to feed all children or not. So for the children that come to these sites, it’s going to be catastrophic,” Wilson explained.

Students won’t be the only ones impacted by this change, Wilson said it’s also going to be difficult for school districts to continue to do business. Most of them are still dealing with severe supply chain issues.

“We’re also seeing 40 to 75% increases in costs. Yet the federal reimbursement rate’s gonna go down because right now, with the waivers, we’re getting a much higher reimbursement rate, which is helping to cover that cost,” Wilson explained. “It’s helping the school district to reset and come back financially from all of this. But on July 1, that’s another thing that will happen is that the reimbursement rate will also go down about 40 cents a meal.”

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced it invested $100 million to fund school meal programs, Wilson said it won’t be enough to replace meals for all of the students once the waiver ends.

“It sounds like a great number, but it is for a variety of things. There are certain constraints that come with it, so each district will get a little bit of something. But it’s not near enough to make sure that all of the children in the United States who need food right now are going to get food once these waivers are gone,” Wilson said.

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