Democrats push to expand universal school meals

Democrats in both houses of Congress are urging House and Senate leaders to help extend a school lunch exemption program that has kept millions of children from going hungry over the past two years.

In a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last Friday, a group of nine Democrats led by Rep. Katie Porter (D-California) asked the Democratic leader to schedule a vote to extend school lunch waivers for this week, before the scheduled expiration date of the program on June 30.

“With higher food costs forcing families to stretch their budgets, free school meals can reduce costs for families by hundreds of dollars each month,” the lawmakers wrote. “The end of this program will cause immediate hardship for many families who will be forced to buy full-price meals at school or pay inflated prices for food at local grocery stores.”

“No child should go hungry in our country, especially in our schools,” the Democrats added.

Also on Friday, 33 senators sent a letter to leaders asking them to include the universal school meals program in upcoming food price and pandemic relief bills and to create a national program to provide families with children with electronic transfer cards additional benefits (EBT) in summer. Signatories to the letter included Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).

The Universal Meals Program, which began in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, allows about 10 million children to access free meals – including breakfast, lunch and dinner, in select locations – from their local schools and groups throughout the school year and when school is closed for the summer.

Children of families with any financial background could access the program, removing a financial verification process that overloaded school nutrition programs and excluded families pushing salary limits for school lunch programs but still struggling to put food on the table. The program also contributed to avoid stigma faced by children who were previously entitled to free meals before the pandemic.

School meal program advocates say that the program is especially needed as inflation soars across the board, with groceries on the rise 12 percent of last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Despite warnings that millions of students may go hungry due to the expiration of the program, Congress did not include funding for the expansion of the program in a spending package earlier this year – thank you partly in opposition to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), according to Democrats. Although McConnell has not publicly commented on the program, a GOP executive aide said Politics that the program is no longer needed after two years of the pandemic.

But, thanks in large part to conservative opposition to programs like the expanded Child Tax Credit, many children could still be at risk or already suffer from food insecurity, especially as wages stagnate. or actually decrease. After the end of the expanded tax credit in December 2021, child poverty rate increased by 41%. The data shows that millions of low-income families still depend on school meals.

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