Michael Gasper has been working in school nutrition services for almost 15 years. He’s now among a group of advocates trying to warn parents in his Wisconsin district and members of Congress that student meal programs will suffer and some children could go hungry if lawmakers fail to act.
“We don’t know what the reimbursement rate is going to be for next year, whether there’s going to be free meals or not free meals, we don’t know, which has made it very difficult for us to do our budgets,” Gasper said.
The problem is two-fold. First, child nutrition waivers that have allowed schools to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students since the pandemic began will expire. Rising food costs are making it harder and harder for schools to provide balanced, nutritional meals to students.
Massachusetts congressional representative Jim McGovern has introduced legislation to give schools an additional six cents for each breakfast served and another 60 cents per lunch. He’s also sponsoring legislation to extend the free lunches. Neither bill has made much headway.
“We want to get the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act passed as soon as possible. And I wanted to include in a bump up in reimbursement for school meals, I also believe that the administration should be out there advocating and trying to extend free universal school meals for everybody that ought to be our policy,” McGovern (D-Mass) said.
Officials at the School Nutrition Association told Spectrum News this isn’t an issue that can wait till this fall. They maintain that school nutrition programs will lose that extra pandemic money throughout the month of June.
“Families right now are struggling to put food on the table with rising food and fuel costs. We don’t want to see any child go hungry next school year. These waivers provided schools additional funding to help offset the costs of operating during the supply chain disruptions. We’re very worried about the financial sustainability of the programs without these additional funds,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, who is with the School Nutrition Association.
One issue McGovern has made progress on is raising awareness about child hunger. The white house has announced a series of virtual hearings through September to talk about the problem.