How This New Bill Could Save America's School Lunch Program

There's a new ray of hope for families in the U.S. who rely on free school meals after a bill was introduced June 21 by four lawmakers to allow for schoolchildren to continue to eat for free (via NPR).

In effect since 2020, the waivers permitted the Department of Agriculture to forgo requirements that determined how schools could serve meals to students and who could receive them, in addition to increasing the amount that schools were reimbursed for the food program. The school-provided meals were important because they provided nutritious foods to students, no matter their family's income.

A pre-pandemic study showed that 75% of all school districts had unpaid school meal debt at the end of the year, according to School Nutrition. During the pandemic, about 30 million students received free school meals, which was 10 million more than before the pandemic, per Bloomberg Law. The USDA has said when the current waivers expire school meal funding will decline by 40% and millions of students could lose access to food at school.

Lawmakers hope the bill will be passed before June 30

The "Keep Kids Fed Act of 2022" — crafted by Senators Debbie Stabenow from Michigan and John Boozman from Arkansas, and Representatives Bobby Scott of Virginia and North Carolina's Virginia Foxx — would extend the Child Nutrition COVID-19 Waivers, according to Newsweek. The four lawmakers hope their bill will be approved by both chambers and sent to President Joe Biden before June 30 when the current waivers expire.

The approximately $3 billion bill is described as "budget-neutral" by NPR and would allow the waivers to cover both meal deliveries and grab-and-go options for students until the end of the summer.

Schools have expressed concern about rising costs for food due to inflation and supply chain issues; this proposed bill would address those concerns. According to Go2Tutors, some worried schools would need to charge families more for meals as their costs to buy food increased. These waivers should put a temporary hold on that issue, hopefully preventing it from becoming a reality.

Per NPR, in addition to the summer meals, the bipartisan-backed bill would provide "supply chain flexibilities and higher reimbursement rates" for the upcoming school year.