Millions of kids across the country could lose access to free school lunch this Fall if Congress does not renew funding for pandemic-era waivers. Under a series of waivers throughout the pandemic, all students received lunch at school for free, regardless of their economic status.

Extending Pandemic-Era Waivers

In June, Congress passed the 'Keep Kids Fed Act' in an effort to extend these waivers until the end of Summer '22. However, many experts are saying that the bill is a temporary and weekend version of the pandemic waivers that preceded it.

Under the proposed expansion, most low-income families will have to reapply for the program in the fall, and children who qualify for reduced-price meals will be forced to resume paying for breakfast and lunch. Also, states will receive less money to compensate for greater food and labor expenses.

As a result, an estimated 10 million children could lose access to free breakfast and lunch each day. This would be a huge blow to families who are struggling financially and could leave many kids without a meal during the day.

Education leaders assumed Congress would secure flexibility for one more year to help schools whether inflation and supply chain shortages. But they are now saying that Congress is not making it a priority. Director of the No Kid Hungry campaign, Jillien Meier, said that:

“Frankly this is not a priority for Congress and the White House. People are really focused on having a ‘return to normal’ ... folks aren’t talking about it and they have no clue that this crisis that is looming.”

What Congress is Doing

A number of advocacy groups, school districts, and elected officials have urged Congress to renew the waivers for the next school year. And, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), introduced the 'Support Kids Not Red Tape Act' to extend the waivers. However, it has only received backing from Democrats and a couple of Republicans.

GOP leadership said that they do not see pandemic-era flexibilities as necessary anymore, stating that the Biden administration is at fault for failing to include an extension of the meal waivers in its formal Covid spending bill request and 2023 budget request.

The bottom line is that after two years of free lunch for all, schools have to return to charging a fee for kids who don’t qualify for free or reduced lunch. For families, this means it will be incredibly important to apply for free and reduced lunch as soon as possible.