On June 25, President Biden signed the bipartisan Keep Kids Fed Act into law, thereby extending several pandemic-era school nutrition waivers. Those waivers, first issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as the pandemic disrupted school operations in 2020, had been set to expire on June 30.
Those 2020 waivers provided school food programs with more flexible nutrition requirements that helped them combat supply shortages, offer options such as “grab-and-go” meals, and provided school meal programs with higher than normal reimbursement rates for meals. The waivers also allowed school food authorities to provide free school meals to all students regardless of family income for the first time in U.S. history.
The new Keep Kids Fed Act continues many of the earlier flexibilities, and provides schools, summer meal sites, and child care food programs with extra resources so they can continue serving children through school year 2022-2023 and respond to ongoing challenges such as such as rising food costs and supply chain disruptions.
Importantly, however, the new law does not extend fully provisions allowing universal free school meals. Instead, it provides only a three-month extension of universal free school meals, which will ensure students avoid a “hunger cliff” on June 30 when current school meal flexibilities were set to expire, but does not extend universal free meals beyond that three-month extension period.
That means starting next school year, to get a free or reduced price meal, students will either have to prove their household income is at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level or attend a school that offers free meals to all students through the Community Eligibility Provision. School nutrition groups had expressed concerns that dropping universal free meal provisions will mean more paperwork and outreach for school food programs, as some parents of children who started school during the pandemic haven’t ever had to apply for free- and reduced-price lunch.
Among the key provisions of the bipartisan Keep Kids Fed Act are provisions that:
- Extend flexibilities for summer meals in 2022, allowing school meal programs to substitute certain meal requirements because of supply chain challenges. This will make it easier for school meal programs to feed all students during the summer months, particularly those in rural areas, through flexible options like meal delivery and grab-and-go meals.
- Extend school meal program administrative and paperwork flexibilities through the 2022-23 school year. This will help schools streamline their meal operations and continue operating despite supply chain disruptions.
- Increase the reimbursement rate for school lunch and school breakfast to help offset the increased cost of food and operating expenses for schools due to inflation and supply chain issues. Schools will receive an additional 40 cents more for each lunch and 15 cents more for each breakfast served.
- Help daycares and home providers in the Child and Adult Care Food Program offset increased costs by providing an additional 10 cents per meal and streamlining reimbursement rates.
Ninety percent of school food authorities took advantage of the pandemic waivers, according to a USDA survey released in March of this year, and many school food authorities continue to face challenges as they return to normal operations.
To further assist school meal programs, the Biden Administration announced today (6/30) that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide nearly $1 billion in additional funding to schools to support the purchase of American-grown foods for their meal programs.