Free meals end as Congress doesn’t extend COVID meal waivers
BY PCC STAFF
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison Community School District officials announced this week that the current Universal Free School Meals program is set to end June 30 and families need to prepare for eligibility guidelines for free and reduced meal programs.
Congress did not extend child nutrition waivers that have allowed schools to provide free meals for all students nationwide since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, local school districts are preparing to transition back to area eligibility for summer meal programs and income eligibility for the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Program (NSLP) next school year. Families will need to carry a positive balance in their child’s school meal account when school begins this fall. Students that qualify for free or reduced price meals are encouraged to apply.
Under the current federal waivers that allow for free meals, more students are eating at school, especially breakfast. *In August 2021 to December 2021, an additional 2.68 million healthy breakfasts (+33.6%) and 619,463 (+2.2%) healthy lunches were provided to Iowa students, compared to the same time period in 2019. In 2019, the NSLP participation rate was 64% and SBP participation was 19.7%, ranking Iowa 49th in the country for breakfast participation. *Information is based on fall 2021, and school year 2018 – 2019 school lunch and breakfast claims reported by the Iowa Department of Education.
The standards for child nutrition meal programs reflect the recommendations from the 2020 – 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, emphasizing the incorporation of whole grains, lean sources of protein, low-fat dairy products, fruits, and vegetables, and limiting saturated fat, sodium and calories.
According to the journal article in the National Library of Medicine titled, “The contribution of the USDA school breakfast and lunch program meals to student daily dietary intake” school breakfast and lunch accounts for up to 58% of a school child’s daily energy intake.
The Center for Disease Control identifies that students who participate in school meal programs have better overall diet quality than nonparticipants, and eating school breakfast is associated with better attendance and better test scores. Time constraints and stigma are some of the reasons students go without eating. The stigma barrier was eliminated with the waivers that allowed for free meals for all students the past two years.
While this change is set to impact students this summer and next school year, the School Nutrition Association of Iowa (SNAI) has been working hard to develop a recommendation for legislators to continue the waivers and free meals for all students for school year 2022 – 2023.
To learn more about SNAI and to express your support for the waiver extensions to your legislators please visit www.snaiowa.org. You can also find valuable information about the association between academics and meal pattern behaviors from the Center for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov/healthyschools.