No More Free School Lunches? An Impending Food Catastrophe For 7 Million Children Across The United States

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After the pandemic struck the United States in early 2020, the federal government’s school meal program was significantly enlarged.

It has now been awarded more than 100 waivers by the Agriculture Department, which administers the program. Some of the additional benefits of these exemptions include free breakfast and lunch for all students in the schools.

However, by the end of this month, the USDA will no longer be able to offer these exemptions. It’s possible that Congress might expand this power, but it’s not something we can count on. One of the USDA exemptions modified a regulation that only authorized summer meal programs in places where at least 50% of the pupils previously qualified for free lunch programs. This restriction only applies to communities that received a waiver from the USDA. The School Nutrition Association, a trade association for school cafeteria employees, said exceptions allowed local schools and community groups to set up food locations depending on demand and need.

The anti-poverty organization Share Our Strength anticipates that one out of every five summer meal outlets that opened last year will not be operating this year.

According to Rachel Sabella, director of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry New York program, “it could jeopardize access to summer meals for nearly 7 million children across the country.”

In addition, those summer meal places that are open will not be able to provide meals to go. They’ll be required to provide sit-down meals at particular hours. Some parents’ schedules don’t allow for it.

In addition, the administration will reintroduce income restrictions on the availability of free school lunches. In the greater Boston region, Rebecca Wood, a single mother, earns slightly over the limit. She said that she had trouble paying the lunch cost for her daughter’s school before the USDA made meals free for all pupils. “She was in first grade, and they were telling her that I needed to pay her debts,” Wood said. “And that was just heartbreaking because I was doing the best I could. I just couldn’t keep up.”

It’s possible that the free lunch program has a negative connotation that deters families from requesting it. According to Crystal FitzSimons, a researcher at the Food Research and Action Center, that’s an issue. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students who eat school meals are less likely to be absent and tardy, and they exhibit better conduct. FitzSimons continued by saying that many school districts are still in the midst of a crisis, and that now is not the time to terminate the exemptions that assisted them in providing food for hungry pupils.