House members call on Congress to extend free school meals for all students

Sep. 17—WASHINGTON — More than 50 House of Representatives members have signed on to support extending free school meals to all students for the current academic year.

An extension to the pandemic-era school meal waivers program that was passed by Congress in June contained a caveat that requires most low-income families to apply again for the program and, for students who qualify for reduced-price meals, to resume paying for breakfast and lunch this year.

The Keep Kids Fed Act waiver that had been in place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic had been set to expire June 30.

Now, Reps. Joshua S. Gottheimer , D-N.J., Katie Porter, D-Calif., Abigail A. Spanberger D-Va., and 48 other House members are urging their congressional counterparts to extend the program for the 2022-23 school year.

Earlier this month, a congressman who represents New York's 25th Congressional District called for free meals for all students.

Joseph D. Morelle, D-Irondequoit, partnered with Foodlink, a nonprofit food bank in Rochester, to mark the start of Hunger Action Month and the new school year.

He highlighted legislation he co-sponsors to provide free school meals to all students, regardless of income, and give schools the tools and resources they need to ensure no child goes hungry.

The Universal School Meals Program Act and Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Morelle, is asking to permanently provide free meals to all school children, regardless of their family's income level; expand summer food service opportunities; preserve the future of school meal programs by increasing the reimbursement rate for lunch; and improve school meal capacity and sustainability by providing grants to purchase kitchen equipment.

The Food Research and Action Center has also been among those asking for an extension of the program.

"For the last two years, schools have been able to provide school meals at no charge to all students due to the child nutrition waivers issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This helped reduce child hunger by increasing school meal participation, and supported school nutrition operations. The waiver that allowed school nutrition programs to keep feeding children in the face of numerous challenges created by the pandemic," Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research and Action Center, said in a statement.

With the waiver expiring on June 30, he said that left many families wondering how their children would get enough nutrition to "fuel their health and learning."

"Household budgets are still being squeezed, and families need to be able to count on school breakfast and lunch to provide nutritious meals for their children," Mr. Guardia said. "FRAC is pleased that lawmakers are responding to requests for an extension of free school meals from parents, caregivers, schools, and anti-hunger organizations. By extending free school meals, all children, regardless of family income, will have access to the food they need to thrive. Congress must act now and prioritize the well-being of our nation's children."