Congress enacts timely Keep Kids Fed Act to extend free school meals through September
As discussed in last week’s KidsFlash, the child nutrition waivers which have ensured our kids have access to free school meals throughout the pandemic were set to expire on June 30 if federal action was not taken. Thanks to nationwide advocacy, Congress passed the bipartisan Keep Kids Fed Act (H.R. 8150) just in time to help mitigate the impact of the loss of these waivers. This legislation is an important first step to ensuring that American children are fed and nourished. The Keep Kids Fed Act will increase reimbursements to schools and child care centers, support access to free school meals for all through the summer, and allow children eligible for reduced-price school meals to receive free school meals.
Before the pandemic, school meals were either free, reduced-price, or full price, depending on family income. Once the public health emergency was declared, waivers passed by Congress allowed for all meals to be free to students. The Keep Kids Fed Act will fully extend all waivers for free meals through the summer to allow for meal deliveries and grab-and-go options for students. It will also extend supply chain flexibilities and meal reimbursement rates higher than pre-pandemic levels through the 2022-23 school year. The policy’s biggest change from the pandemic’s waivers up until this point is the loss of the suspended eligibility requirements for free and reduced-price meal applications that added essential flexibility to our school meal programs. This means that not every student will continue to receive free meals.
As American schools continue to struggle with supply chain disruptions, soaring food prices, and rising labor costs, many schools are also set to raise meal prices. Those students who would not qualify for free or reduced-price meals will soon be paying more than before the pandemic began. Only students with a qualifying family income (185% of the federal poverty level or less) will be able to access continuing free or reduced-price meals.
We thank Congress for passing this bipartisan legislation to prevent a children’s summer hunger crisis. Still, more must be done. The provisions in this legislation are only temporary. They do not provide continued access to free school meals for all beyond this summer. With the importance of school meals for children’s nutrition, academic achievement, and support of families struggling to recover from the pandemic, we urge Congress to make additional investments in child nutrition programs. Contact your federal representatives today to urge them to invest in long-term Healthy School Meals for All in your community!
Colorado will attempt to address this issue on its own with voters this November. Through a referred ballot measure, Colorado can fund school meals for all children in participating public schools, beginning as soon as the 2023-24 school year. The Colorado Children’s Campaign is a supporting member of the strong coalition working to pass this program. We are excited to be a part of this coalition working to secure access to nutritious food that will allow our children to learn and thrive. As the election nears, keep an eye out for more information and updates on this ballot initiative and the Healthy School Meals for All coalition’s efforts. For now, learn more from Hunger Free Colorado.