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Groups Call on Extension of School Free Meals


(KASB) –
A coalition of education and hunger-relief organizations is calling on Congress to approve bi-partisan legislation that would allow schools to continue providing free meals without requiring families to prove income levels to qualify.

The “Support Kids Not Red Tape Act,” (S. 3979), would extend school meal wavier authority to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through Sept. 30, 2023. U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have introduced this new legislation. These USDA waiver flexibilities have been crucial to helping school districts provide meal services to children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Many districts still face challenges such as supply chain delays and labor shortages as they return to normal operations.

Extending the authority to the USDA to continue these flexibilities gives schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to deal with ongoing foodservice issues while providing continuity in school meal services to students. The “Support Kids Not Red-Tape Act” would also help schools transition back to normal meal operations under the National School Lunch Program.

“The sooner the USDA is authorized to extend child nutrition waivers, the sooner schools and community organizations can plan meal programs for summer and next school year,” said Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. “Schools and community meal providers continue to face extreme pandemic-related challenges like supply chain disruptions, rising food prices and staffing shortages. Without waivers, they will have a difficult time responding to these challenges in real-time, impacting their ability to safely and effectively reach kids with the nutrition they need and stunting their ability to transition to normal operations as those challenges subside.”
The effort is supported by numerous education groups, including NSBA, NEA, National PTA, School Superintendents Association and School Nutrition Association.

Without legislation, school meals will no longer be available to all students free of charge. Currently, the waiver authority to provide free meals for all students will expire at the end of the school year. Students who do not qualify for free meals will be charged for each meal they take at the start of the 2022-23 school year.

The Kansas State Department of Education has released a 

question-and-answer guide

 for Kansas school districts to resume processing free and reduced-price meal applications from households for the upcoming school year should Congress take no action.