Free meal program to expire at the end of this school year

Child nutrition waivers that have allowed schools across the country to serve free meals to all K-12 students during the COVID-19 pandemic — also known as the Universal School Meals Program — will expire at the end of June, it has been report­ed.

The bipartisan omnibus appropria­tions bill signed on Friday, March 11 by U.S. President Joe Biden that re­portedly averted a government shut­down did not in­clude an extension of the special child nutri­tion waivers that have reportedly played a major role in keeping chil­dren fed during the pandemic.

House Resolution 2471 included $730 billion in non-defense spend­ing, reportedly a 6.7-percent increase over fiscal year 2021, as well as $782 billion in defense spending. But op­ponents said the waivers would add another $11 billion to the spending and were not intended to be perma­nent.

School administrators and child nutrition experts across the country urged lawmakers to keep the federal waiver program alive, saying that not allowing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend the waivers would significantly damage schools’ ability to serve meals.

Among those expressing dismay at Congress’ failure to include an ex­tension of the waiver program was USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who noted that “kids are going to have less on their plates… There’s no rea­son for this.”

The waivers were first granted in March of 2020 in order to make sure that schools, local governing entities and non-profit organizations would still be able to offer free meals to children who found themselves stay­ing home from school for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, at the onset of the pandemic.

Legislation had been introduced to make the waiver program permanent and posited that 30 million children in the country rely on free or re­duced-price school lunches. Further­more, proponents added, if the waivers expire, many students would no longer re­ceive free school meals.

For more on this and other stories, please log in to your account and select the March 16, 2022 edition under “E-Editions.”

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