The bill would maintain 2022 summer meal access for low-income children, provide increased meal reimbursement rates as schools continue to navigate supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, and lift some of the cost burden on families by eliminating reduced-price meal copays for the upcoming school year. Project Bread is encouraged by the latest movement within Congress to address the upcoming hunger cliff that will ensue once the COVID-19 child nutrition waivers expire on June 30, 2022.
The Keep Kids Fed Act (H.R. 8150), introduced by Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) and House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC), now heads to the Senate, and it would do the following:
Since March 2020, the federal child nutrition waivers have allowed meals to be provided free of charge to any student, reducing accessibility barriers for students. The waivers have also allowed schools and other meal providers to be reimbursed for meals at a higher rate, which has helped mitigate supply chain issues and administrative challenges. As a result, more than 31,000 additional students ate school meals this school year than pre-pandemic, despite lower school enrollment. Project Bread has worked closely with schools to develop recipes amid supply chain challenges and to increase participation in their meal programs with resources, support, and training. We have also worked closely with summer meal site sponsors as they have navigated grab-and-go meals the last two years and are returning to communal eating this summer with the waivers currently ending.
Without congressional action, summer meal sites will lose the flexibilities that have supported increased participation. In Massachusetts, these waivers have resulted in summer meal sites in 65 more communities. Each of these communities will no longer be eligible to participate in the program if this bill does not pass, causing Massachusetts children to lose access to as many as 5 million meals this summer.
“Our goal is keeping all kids fed, today and every day in the future,” shares Erin McAleer, President & CEO of Project Bread. “The waivers that are set to expire have been a lifeline for the families and communities we serve so we look forward to federal action in this moment. While the passage of this legislation would be marked progress toward curbing the summer hunger cliff and addressing supply chain and cost challenges, ensuring all children have enough to eat requires action at every level of government. As a state, the most important thing Massachusetts can do is take care of children and families right now by extending universal school meals to support the more than 400,000 kids are at risk of losing a vital source of nutrition.”
Project Bread is grateful to House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) and the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation for their commitment to the federal nutrition programs and their advocacy for continued waivers and flexibilities that have allowed for sustained access to healthy meals for families during a time of heightened economic uncertainty and rising food and transportation costs.
We call on the Massachusetts state legislature to build on this progress and pass a state-level extension of School Meals for All in the FY23 budget. While The Keep Kids Fed Act addresses the summer hunger cliff and some of the supply chain and cost challenges, we need to ensure that Massachusetts families maintain access to universal school meals through school year 2022-2023 so that we do not strip families of this critical resource during a time of economic hardship.