Government Delays Controversial Change to How Many Kids Qualify for Free School Meals

Adam Carlson

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is reportedly delaying — albeit briefly — a proposed rule change to how up to 1 million children qualify for free or cheaper school meals.

The change, first announced over the summer, has been halted for another 14-day window of public comments, according to The New York Times.

The USDA wants to tighten how millions of people qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps — a sweeping change that will subsequently affect which schoolchildren can also use the School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program, since kids on SNAP had automatically been eligible for both.

According to an analysis from the USDA released publicly on Tuesday, the changes in which households qualify for SNAP would mean “potentially as many as 982,000 children would no longer be directly certified for free school meals based on SNAP participation.”

Instead, about 440,000 of those children would still qualify for free meals based on household income — as long as their families applied, raising concerns about the burdens of such a step, despite how negligible it may seem from the outside.

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“We hear from schools all the time about the challenge they have with getting families to understand the paperwork or to get it back,” No Kid Hungry’s Lisa Davis said of the proposed changes, according to the Associated Press.

According to the USDA’s analysis, another approximately 500,000 kids would be eligible to receive reduced-price meals: 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch.

About 40,000 children would no longer receive either free or reduced meals at all, according to the USDA.

The change has received more than 100,000 comments, many of them negative, according to the Times.

Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, who has spoken out about the changes before, said Wednesday that “the internal analysis released by the Department of Agriculture shows that the impact of its proposed rule would be even worse than we had feared,” according to CNN.

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“Even for those who remain eligible, forcing low-income families to navigate the burdensome paperwork will inevitably lead to eligible children losing access to a critical source of daily nutrition,” Scott said.

The USDA cautioned, however, that its analysis “should be treated as upper-bound impact estimates” because some of the children could receive meals through programs such as the Community Eligibility Provision.

An agency spokesman did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.