By Sergio Mata-Cisneros
This summer, all schoolchildren will have the opportunity to receive free meals due to the passage of the Keep Kids Fed Act.
And your advocacy made all the difference.
When the pandemic started, Congress gave the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to issue national child nutrition waivers, allowing schools to provide free meals to all students, regardless of income. These child nutrition waivers have made it possible for schools and local organizations to modify how they provide nutritious food to children.
For example, during the pandemic, some schools and local organizations implemented grab-and-go models or instituted programs that dropped off meals at a child’s home.
But the waivers were set to expire on June 30 and if Congress failed to extend them, millions of children would be vulnerable to food insecurity. Earlier this spring, Congress had failed to extend the waivers during the passage of the annual federal budget bill.
Many schools and local organizations were unsure if they would be able to open summer meal sites if the waivers were not extended, putting children at risk of missing out on more than 95 million meals this summer alone.
In an attempt to prevent millions of kids from going hungry this summer, Bread for the World made this issue the primary domestic ask for our annual Advocacy Summit in early June. At the time, we were unsure if lawmakers were going to step in and extend the waivers before the June 30 deadline.
During the Advocacy Summit, 150 attendees from all over the country converged on Washington, D.C. They met with over 45 members of Congress to urge them to extend the child nutrition waivers through the 2022-2023 academic year.
Two weeks after Bread’s advocacy summit and days before the waivers were set to expire, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), along with House Committee on Education and Labor Chairman Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Ranking Member Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), announced a bipartisan and bicameral agreement to extend the child nutrition waivers – the Keep Kids Fed Act.
After the bill’s introduction, Congress took quick action, passed the legislation through both chambers, and President Biden signed the Keep Kids Fed Act on June 25 helping avert a summer hunger crisis!
The legislation includes nearly $3 billion to extend all pandemic school meal waivers through the summer, continue no-cost waivers like relaxed nutritional standards to help with supply chain disruptions, and increase federal reimbursement rates for school lunch by 40 cents and breakfast programs by 15 cents through the 2022-23 school year.
These provisions in the legislation are helpful for the summer months in supporting schools, and local organizations provide free meals to all. However, families will face a hunger cliff when they lose healthy school meals for all during the school year.
Bread for the World now urges Congress to extend the critical waiver that allows schools to offer meals to all children at no charge through this upcoming school year and to make long-term investments in the child nutrition programs by expanding community eligibility and permanently expanding Summer EBT nationwide.
Sergio Mata-Cisneros is an advocacy and policy analyst at Bread for the World.