Biden Signs Bill Extending School Meal Waivers, But Not For Everyone

Biden signs the Keep Kids Fed Act, extending the school meal voucher program, but it will only remain free to some.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Keep Kids Fed

There has been a lot of confusion around the free school meals program that kept millions of children fed for the last few years inside of schools. A few months back, congress failed to renew the voucher program, and Americans feared for the nutritional well-being of students after it was set to end on June 30th. Rumors ran rampant. Some skeptics said the Biden Administration was going to extend the act only to schools that supported transgender students. Others believed the feds were ready to renew it as under the same measures it has been privy to since the onset of the pandemic. Now, Biden made it official, signing the Keep Kids Fed Act into law, but not everyone will continue to receive free school meals.

On Saturday, June 25th, President Joe Biden signed the Keep Kids Fed act. As close as possible to the deadline that would have ended the program, leaving districts that provide summer lunches to kids struggling, the universal free meals for children will continue normal operation through the summer. However, this measure will end this fall, and not everyone will be eligible for free school meals next school year. 

Instead, families will be required to reapply for free or reduced-price school meals under the Keep Kids Fed act. Still, the new deal will increase federal reimbursement amounts to keep up with the rising costs of food. These increases will cover an additional 40 cents per pupil for school lunch and 15 cents for each breakfast. Students still eligible for reduced-priced meals would continue to receive them for free, but only if qualified. 

The Keep Kids Fed act came with a $3 billion price tag which congress members worked feverishly to pass at the last minute. While it may seem like a hefty endeavor, the act is, in fact, neutral, and will not increase net federal spending this year. When the bill passed both the House and Senate late on Friday, speaker Nancy Pelosi praised congress’ swift efforts, saying that it would avert hunger fears for kids across the nation.

Additionally, the newly signed Keep Kids Fed act added in provisions to aid schools suffering from food chain disruptions. Across the nation, districts have reported struggling to not only pay nutrition suppliers but even just to simply keep normal food items in stock. To help with this, there will be no-cost waivers to ease nutritional standards to allow districts to substitute food items if they aren’t available or only so at an increased, unaffordable price. 

Some legislators noted that while everyone agreed on the Keep Kids Fed rulings in order to stave off a plethora of issues, some still were unhappy with the deal and its temporary, not permanent provisions. Still, it seemed necessary to quickly push this bill through in the bipartisan effort, as a last-minute emergency endeavor. “Hungry children can’t wait,” said Luis Guardia, the president of the Food Research & Action Center. 

Keep kids fed

As helpful as the passage of the Keep Kids Fed act may be, more and more states are understanding how important it really has been for schools to keep free meals available to families in need. K12 Dive reports that state initiatives to create policies that would provide all students free school meals is on the rise, as the uncertainty for the future of these meal vouchers is unclear. Either way, nutrition and food directors for schools across the nation are bracing for a tumultuous year ahead, as food and gas prices, along with supply chain and labor shortages are suspected to only get worse next school year.