– Congress Urged to Extend Waiver Deadline Beyond This School Year to Support Families and Schools as Nation Recovers –
WASHINGTON, February 15, 2022 — Student participation in school breakfast and lunch dropped dramatically across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic and school nutrition programs are still recovering, according to a new report released today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC).
FRAC’s The Reach of Breakfast and Lunch: A Look at Pandemic and Pre-Pandemic Participation reveals nearly 14 million children received breakfast and 19.8 million children received lunch on an average school day during the 2020–2021 school year, a decrease of 692,000 children and 8.8 million children, respectively, compared to breakfast and lunch participation rates in the 2018–2019 school year — the last full school year prior to the pandemic.
“Childhood hunger in this country has spiked dramatically as a result of the public health and economic fallout of COVID-19,” said Luis Guardia, president of FRAC. “But things would be far worse if not for child nutrition waivers, and the hard work of states, school nutrition directors, and community-based organizations, which has supported access to school and summer meals during this unprecedented time.”
In 2020, Congress gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to issue nationwide child nutrition waivers through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. These waivers have allowed school nutrition programs, local government agencies, and nonprofit organizations to keep feeding children in the face of numerous challenges such as school closures, virtual learning, and the need to social distance. The waivers remain critical due to the ongoing supply chain disruptions and staffing shortages, and are needed to support access to meals this summer.
Without Congressional action, the waivers are set to expire on June 30, 2022.
“Now is not the time to pull the rug out from children and families,” said Guardia. “It will take a long time for many families to recover from the challenges brought on by the pandemic and we need to make sure they have the resources they need to get back on their feet. The decrease in meal participation revealed in our report supports the urgent need for these child nutrition waivers to be extended beyond this school year as schools and community-based organizations recover from the impact of the pandemic.”
The report provides breakfast and lunch data for every state and the District of Columbia. The 2018-2019 school year data includes participation in the School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs. The data for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years also include participation in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) to account for the meals provided using the child nutrition waivers that have been made available during the pandemic.
FRAC and nearly 2,000 national, state, and local organizations from every state across the country, and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, are urging Congress to swiftly extend USDA authority to issue nationwide waivers for the Child Nutrition Programs beyond this school year.
The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.