A bipartisan effort is underway in Congress to extend school meal waivers that were enacted in response to the pandemic. Without Congressional action, those waivers are set to expire on June 30, 2022.
The existing waivers, which allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to waive various requirements that govern how schools can serve meals and who can get them, also increased the reimbursement rates for school food programs.
On Tuesday (6/21), the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee and House Committee on Education and Labor announced agreement on a bipartisan measure – the Keep Kids Fed Act (H.R. 8150) – to extend school meal wavier authority to through the 2022-23 school year. The waiver authority under the bill would extend to September 30, 2023 and would include summer meals.
Proponents of extending the school meal waivers argue it would provide schools and school food authorities with the continued flexibility to manage numerous challenges impacting the delivery of child nutrition services, including supply chain issues affecting the availability of certain food items and cost increases due to inflation. Many of these challenges were caused by the pandemic or residual impacts of the pandemic.
Proponents also argue the bill would help to ensure that the federal child nutrition programs continue to operate and provide healthy meals and snacks to students so they can get the nutrition they need to help them learn and grow.
Proponents also note that without the waivers in place school food authorities will have once again have to deal with a return of free and reduced-price meal applications to determine eligibility and pricing of meals for students.
The existing school meal waiver authority was provided to the USDA under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. An effort in Congress earlier this year to extend those waivers one more academic school year stalled when provisions to extend the waiver authority were not included in the federal budget signed by President Joe Biden in March.
As of this writing, no Wisconsin lawmakers have signed onto the Keep Kids Fed Act as sponsors.