The End of Free Lunches for Students?

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With inflation skyrocketing, many parents have loved being able to send their kids to school knowing that school lunches were covered. It meant that a snack pack of pudding didn’t have to be purchased. It meant one less loaf of bread that needed to go into the grocery cart.

For over a year, the Child Nutrition COVID-19 waivers made their way into the public school system, creating free breakfasts and lunches for all students – not just for the low-income families who would have been covered no matter what.

The free meals were relief for COVID. Now that COVID isn’t the crisis that it once was, the federal waivers will expire on June 30.

It’s not just about COVID at this point, though. There’s growing inflation. Groceries are more expensive, so packing a lunch for students becomes a financial burden. And even sending kids with $3 or $4 a day to buy from the school cafeteria adds up to nearly $100 for the month – and that’s gas money for most families.

This isn’t just a small number of people who will be impacted. It’s been estimated that 10 million students or more will be impacted.

So, what needs to happen?

A congressional extension, to start.

As Bon Appetit identified, “For parents with children in public schools around the country, the waivers have been a lifeline over the past two years, particularly as inflation outpaces salary growth and continues to drive up the price of food.”

Kids need to be fed – and no kid should go hungry. When a kid is malnourished, it can impact their growth, their brain development, and more. Most parents know this, which is why some are even saying that they’ll skip meals for themselves just so that their kids can be fed.

This can’t possibly be the solution. It means that parents have to speak up. Representatives and Senators need to hear about the concerns.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was what created the waivers in March 2020, under former President Trump. The waivers were issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Beyond the waivers, which were given regardless of a parent’s financial status, schools were also given funds to help with food costs and cafeteria labor costs.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokesperson from the School Nutrition Association has said, “We are worried hungry children could fall through the cracks.”

One of the reasons for such concern is that parents notoriously don’t fill out the applications that would get their kids free or reduced-cost meals. This may be because they are too busy or simply because they don’t want to share their financial information. Either way, the only way to get the free meals is by submitting an application.

Mitch McConnell, who has been opposing a lot of legislation that could help Americans lately, is one who stood in the way of extending the waivers.

While many Republicans pride themselves on being fiscally conservative, this is not the area to make cuts. Some will say that the waivers aren’t necessary anymore – though it would be a good idea to ask them now that gas is closing in on $5 a gallon.

If the GOP wants to ensure that the red wave wipes out their liberal competition, this would be the issue that they need to jump on. Parents are looking out for their kids. They need the financial help, even if they don’t want to ask for it.

Free lunch could be a game-changer – and every kid enrolled in public school could be guaranteed to eat two balanced meals a day. That sounds like a win for everyone.