Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Expiring pandemic aid to schools could make hunger worse this summer for food-insecure students

Summer is always the hungry season for America’s children — when school is not in session, many students don’t get enough to eat," Bridget Huber reports for Successful Farming. "But anti-hunger groups are warning this summer could be worse than usual, since many schools have been forced to scale back or eliminate their summer meals programs because the waivers that vastly expanded access to school food during the pandemic are set to expire on June 30, unless Congress takes action."

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said Wednesday the House will extend the waivers, but Republicans are putting up "considerable opposition" to new spending. "The cuts to summer meals come as families are facing high fuel and food prices and a gradual rollback of many pandemic-era programs aimed at reducing poverty and hunger," Huber reports.

Crystal FitzSimons, director of School and Out-of-School-Time Programs at the Food Research & Action Center, told Huber the organization is "very, very concerned that millions of kids are going to lose access to meals this summer."

"Before the pandemic, schools often struggled to reach hungry kids in the summer — only about one in seven students who got free or reduced-cost meals during the school year got summer meals, FitzSimons said. Pre-pandemic, schools and community organizations could offer free summer meals only in communities or neighborhoods where more than half of the students qualified for free or reduced-cost lunch," Huber reports. "This meant the program didn’t reach low-income kids living in mixed-income communities. But under the waivers, free summer meals can be served in any community, regardless of income level."

Expanded summer meals programs have been popular: "In 2020, three times more summer meals were served than in 2019, according to a recent report from No Kid Hungry. Demand remained high in the summer of 2021 — even as things edged back toward normal, more than twice as many meals were served than in summer 2019," Huber reports. An Agriculture Department "spokesperson said the agency does not have projections for how many summer meals will be served this summer, but No Kid Hungry estimates that one in five sites that served meals in summer of 2021 will be ineligible to do so this year, and that nearly 7 million children could lose access to meals this summer."

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