Project Bread is deeply concerned that children in the Commonwealth will lose access to critical child nutrition programs like school and summer meals, the number one source of free food during the pandemic, as Congress did not extend USDA’s authority to continue pandemic-related flexibilities for school and summer meals.
Since March of 2020, federal waivers have allowed meals to be provided free of charge to any student, reducing barriers to increase accessibility for students. Schools and other meal providers have been reimbursed for meals at a higher rate which has helped to supply chain issues and administrative challenges. As a result, more than 31,000 additional students ate school meals this school year than pre-pandemic, despite lower school enrollment. At the end of this school year, June 30th, 2022, these waivers are set to expire, bringing the return of stigma, exclusion, school meal fees, and unpaid meal debt to the school cafeteria.
Free Summer meals will lose flexibilities that support increased participation in summer meals when the waivers that allowed the program to reach more families in more communities end in the middle of the summer without an extension of the federal waivers. In Massachusetts, these flexibilities have resulted in summer meal sites in 65 more communities, each of which will no longer be eligible to participate in the program. In this scenario, Project Bread anticipates MA children will lose access to as many as 5 million summer meals.
Massachusetts must step in and enact School Meals for All at the state-level.
Please urge your legislators to ensure that School Meals for All remains in place after the waivers expire.
“With 18.5% of households experiencing food insecurity in Massachusetts, up from an already too high 8.2% before the pandemic, we are still very much in a crisis,” said Project Bread CEO Erin McAleer. “No child should have to sit in the classroom with an empty stomach or bear the weight of school meal debt in order to eat at school. No child should live with daily hunger because school is out for the summer. This is always true, but particularly while their family continues to grapple with the economic impact of this pandemic. Feeding kids is not a partisan issue, but we are nonetheless seeing what happens when it falls victim to partisan negotiations. And the children and families of Massachusetts will be forced to pay the price.”
Project Bread is grateful to the Massachusetts Congressional delegation for their steadfast support of the child nutrition programs and their continued advocacy for continuation waivers and flexibilities that have allowed schools and community partners to meet families where they are and respond to an ongoing and unprecedented food insecurity crisis.
In order to provide a glide path for families who face a cliff when waivers expire, we ask that the state legislature pass a state-level extension of School Meals for All in an upcoming spending bill, to ensure that Massachusetts families are not left behind at this precarious time of recovery for the Commonwealth.