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The Field Report: Are Expiring School Meal Waivers a Looming Catastrophe?

Since March 2020, despite unprecedented labor and financial constraints, school nutrition directors have largely been able to adapt their meal programs to meet the ongoing pandemic-driven challenges of getting healthy meals to the nearly 30 million children who depend on them. They’ve been able to swap ingredients to manage shortages of certain foods; package meals and send them home when necessary; and offer free meals to all students. But none of it would have been possible without U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) waivers that were authorized by Congress—and those are now set to expire on June 30.

“All of those flexibilities, collectively, will disappear on July 1,” said Jillien Meier, director of partnerships and campaign strategies for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. She worries that the shift could be, “absolutely catastrophic for schools, but even more catastrophic for kids and their families.”

With the waivers in place, schools served more than double the number of summer meals in July 2020 and 2021 compared to previous years.