When the pandemic shut down schools, millions of students were separated from their one reliable source of food. But schools made sure kids didn’t miss out.

Using flexibility provided by the federal government, they found ways to get food where it was needed. It has been a lifesaver.

And then, earlier this month, Congress just took it away, as Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, reportedly objected to extending the waivers that made it all possible.

And for what? Their objection to the waivers, ostensibly over spending concerns, will do nothing but harm hurting students, their families and their schools. Any money saved will be spent many times over as schools and communities deal with the fallout.

The waivers, approved in the early days of the pandemic, allowed schools to provide meals outside of group settings, using delivery spots and grab-and-go options to reach students who were now learning from home.

They also increased reimbursement rates and allowed school districts to serve everyone 18 and under, so that the districts could serve the meals without too much paperwork, and with far less effect on their own budgets.


The waivers worked. They helped school districts get food to the students who needed it, and gave struggling families some breathing room.

And they’ve shown their usefulness goes beyond the pandemic. Schools know their students and their communities, and when given the opportunity and the funding, they can build strong, creative meals programs that bring kids the regular, healthy food they need to succeed in school.

Yet it will likely come to an end June 30, after Republicans had a waiver extension removed from the omnibus spending bill passed earlier this month. Ninety percent of schools across the country use the waivers, and on average each of them will see their meal reimbursements drop more than 40 percent.

The lower reimbursement, and the loss of flexibility, will raise local costs and cut back on the number of meals a school can offer. In Maine, where lawmakers approved universal free school meals last year on a bipartisan vote, the state will pay for free student meals, making sure those continue. But the other changes will certainly affect how schools are able to operate their food programs.

And those changes come at a time when districts are already dealing with supply problems and high prices, putting meal programs at a “breaking point,” according to the School Nutrition Association.

Families, too, are facing rising prices on food, rent and other essentials. Making meals less available at school will only stress them more. It’ll be yet another hit on the low-income families who have been hit over and over again by the pandemic.


Many of these same families already went through this once, when the enhanced child tax credit was rescinded after providing extra resources for 27 million children, lifting 3.7 million of them out of poverty.

Those kids are back in poverty now, their families scraping by. Soon, because the school waivers are ending, more students will find it difficult to get the nourishment they need each day.

Their families will suffer too, as they try to fill in the gap, taking money to pay for food that would have otherwise paid for shelter, or clothing, or any of the other bills that are mounting up.

Their schools will do the same, cutting food programs as needed while taking money meant for the classroom to fill the gaps left by the loss of federal funding.

By any measure, our communities will be worse off. Weaker. Less resilient.

And for what?

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: