Advocates: Extend Child-Nutrition Waivers Past June 30
Thursday, February 24, 2022
Children's advocates are sounding the alarm about the expiration of a program they say has been key to keeping low-income children fed during the pandemic.
Child nutrition waivers were created by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of March 2020, which gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture the power to approve more than two dozen provisions allowing state and local organizations flexibility to run free meal programs during COVID-19.
Patty Barker, No Kid Hungry campaign director for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, said the waivers are vital to the ongoing pandemic recovery.
"We already had a drop-off on meal participation during the pandemic because of the way kids were attending school, many of them virtually," Barker observed. "The struggle will continue to reach those kids if suddenly there's just a change, 'Oh, well, let's just drop off from pandemic to back to normal.' "
About 65% of Arkansas children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, according to recent data. The waivers are set to expire June 30. Waiver provisions include universal free meals for students and permitting parents to pick up food from school- and community-based sites to bring home to their children.
Crystal FitzSimons, director of school and out-of-school programs for the Food Research and Action Center, said if the waivers end June 30, it would dramatically impact the free Summer Food Service Program many families rely on when school is not in session.
"The grab-and-go meals would disappear," FitzSimons pointed out. "The availability of it in communities of Arkansas, the sponsors would have a more difficult time operating the program, so we'd see sites have to close. Summer food sponsors would have to completely change how they operate their program."
The Keeping School Meals Flexible Act, bipartisan legislation introduced in the House this month, would extend the waivers.
FitzSimons noted the hope is Congress will extend the waivers through the next federal funding bill, which must be passed by March 11.
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