The US Department of Agriculture had relaxed its customary requirements for school breakfast and lunch subsidies when schools across the country were shuttered due to pandemics. As the pandemic affected families and the economy, the federal government eased nutritional rules and gave additional funding to guarantee that children were served. The waivers, however, are set to expire on June 30, right in the middle of summer meal programs. So, if the federal government does not continue the+ “free lunches for everyone” program started during the pandemic, children in North Carolina could go hungry starting next month.
Complicated System and Rising Inflation
The USDA supported school breakfasts and lunches based on family income before the pandemic. Some children were eligible for free lunches, while others received discounted meals. The federal government ensured that no children would go hungry because their families failed to fill out documents or fulfill income requirements by lifting its limits while schools used remote and hybrid instruction. Now that the waivers are about to expire, school boards and other government entities are scrambling to fill the voids.
In an interview, State Superintendent, Catherine Truitt said “Rising costs for food, gasoline and other supplies related to school meals block school districts from returning to pre-pandemic ‘normal.’ Over the last couple of years, “everything that goes into feeding children has doubled or tripled, and the food cost itself has risen up to 40%.”
Reaching Out to Government
According to the letter from Board of Education Chair Davis and Truitt, Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr are urged to support Senate Bill 3979, which would extend the waivers and universal free meals through September 2023.
“The loss of these waivers will devastate school meal programs and threaten their sustainability. School meals will be jeopardized for thousands of North Carolina students who depend upon them as their primary source of food during the week,” Truitt and Eric Davis wrote to North Carolina’s senators.
The School Nutrition Association also supports the waivers being extended for the next school year. According to the trade group, which represents over 50,000 school food suppliers, shortages, high pricing, and ongoing COVID-19 cases are causing disruptions in school lunch programs across the country.