Bipartisan group’s school meals plan slashes funds that have fed millions of children

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced they had reached consensus on a bill to extend the universal school meals program that has helped feed millions of children throughout the pandemic – but l The agreement removes the universal aspect of the program.

Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) and John Boozman (R-Arkansas) and Representatives Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) and Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) have unveiled the Keep Kids Fed Act, which would extending an additional school lunch exemption program through the upcoming school year and providing an additional 40 cents in federal school lunch reimbursements and 15 cents in breakfast reimbursements.

Lawmakers had raced to reach a deal with Republicans, who wanted weaken the program, apparently because they were concerned about the cost. Although the proposal comes just before the current waiver program expires on June 30, it requires that the federal school lunch program be limited to families earning below a certain wage range.

Stabenow and Scott have recognized that the deal is weaker than they originally wanted. Yet legislators and waiver program advocates celebrated that they were able to reach an agreement with Republicans on legislation at all, just nine days before the current program expired.

“As the country is on the road to recovery, many schools are still struggling with supply chain shortages and other increased costs that will make it more difficult to serve meals next year,” he said. Scott said in a statement. “While this bill does not go as far as I would like to support students in our country, it is a significant step in the right direction.

In a press release on the bill, Republicans in the group specifically welcomed the fact that the waivers would now reach fewer children than they have in the last two years of the universal program. “This legislation will maintain our accountability to taxpayers and respect the principle that aid should be targeted and temporary while helping students truly in need,” Foxx said. Boozman also celebrated that the new bill will be “fully paid.”

While it’s true that the new proposal is cheaper – with a price tag of around $3 billion, while the universal program extension would have cost around $11 billion – commentators pointed out that conservatives who don’t care about the cost of feeding children often have no qualms about supporting the country’s annual injection into the massive Pentagon budget. This year, for example, senators have stacked 45 billion dollars in addition to already record defense budget on a bipartisan basis, bringing the proposed total budget to $847 billion for next year.

Meanwhile, schools and local groups say that a reduction in funding for their meal programs will have a devastating effect on their ability to ensure children are fed. This impact could be felt widely across the country, as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 90% of school nutrition programs currently receive funds from the universal meal program.

Imposing income limits on the program could prevent millions of children from having access to meals. About 30 million children are currently receiving meals through the program, when only 20 million children received federal meal assistance before the pandemic. Many of the 10 million children who started receiving free meals at the start of the pandemic come from families that were above the program’s income threshold but still struggle to put food on the table. – a problem that has been exacerbated by high inflation rates in recent months. .

activists and progressive have long advocated for universal free meals for children. Without a means test, families will not have to jump through hoops to receive meal benefits, and stigma towards children who receive free meals could be reduced. Meanwhile, making repayments rather than reducing the cost of the meal up front could negatively impact families who cannot afford the meals initially, compounding school meal debt issues.

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