The federal program offering child nutrition waivers that put free meals in front of school students over the last few years is set to end in just a few short days. As school officials fear this looming cut-off, lawmakers finally at the last minute seem to understand how dire the situation is, as its ending could mean millions of children would now go hungry throughout the country, as they depended on these school meals. Yesterday, June 21st, Congress was hard at work together across party lines to come up with a solution to extend the program.
US News reports that the looming bipartisan deal will extend the child nutrition waivers program, which is currently set to expire on June 30th. The extension is said to extend through the summer, providing meals to students through July and August, along with the entirety of the next school year. Working on the deal, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry noted that congress needed to act “swiftly” to get this deal passed.
Stabenow pointed out the need to extend the child nutrition waivers program, as 90% of all public schools are still facing challenges even after returning to normal operation this year. When the free school meals program was first enacted at the onset of the pandemic under President Donald Trump, it was meant as a way to give schools that had shut down the opportunity to continue to hand out breakfasts and lunches, at no cost. Through this time, the program proved not only successful, but seemingly a necessity, as reports of deprived children depending on these school-provided meals – some as their only source of nutrition – flooded in.
Furthermore, issues with inflation and supply chains added to the urgent need to keep the child nutrition waivers program running. With already skyrocketed prices on food, schools report further costs as supply chains raise prices even further because of gasoline prices to transport. Without free or reduced lunches, schools would have no choice but to charge families more money for school meals.
Data reflects how vital the child nutrition waivers program has been for the majority of schools around the nation. One report recently published by the Food Research Action Center depicted how nearly every single one of the nation’s largest school districts reported that the waivers reduced child hunger in their schools by more than 80% during the last few years. Similarly, these meals helped raise student academic achievement.
The child nutrition waivers extension deal is said to come to about $3 billion. It will continue to allow those who are currently eligible for reduced-price meals to receive them at no cost. Also, it will now increase federal reimbursements for school lunches by 40 cents, and breakfasts by 15 cents. Furthermore, it will address new issues with chain disruptions.
While many school officials, families, and lawmakers were appalled that Congress failed to reinstate the child nutrition waivers program previously, this newly reached deal is being applauded by people across the nation, who have feared the next few weeks. Most states are already out of school, and summer meal programs are in full swing. Because of the hasty actions of Congress, schools can take a breath, and rest assured knowing the program will continue on, for at least another school year. Official announcements are said to come sometime this week.