New report highlights the urgent need to extend child nutrition waivers
WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 — Large school districts around the country noted nationwide child nutrition waivers issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) helped reduce child hunger by increasing school meal participation, and played a critical role in supporting school nutrition operations during the 2021–2022 school year, according to a report released today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC).
The waivers have allowed school nutrition programs to keep feeding children in the face of numerous challenges created by the pandemic. Congressional action is needed to extend the waivers through the 2022–2023 school year.
FRAC’s Large School District Report: Operating School Nutrition Programs During the Pandemic looks at survey findings from 62 large school districts in 31 states and their reported breakfast and lunch participation and operating status in April 2021 and October 2021.
“School breakfast and lunch are proven tools for fueling children’s health and learning,” said Luis Guardia, president of FRAC. “Waivers made things much easier for families and school administrators during the school year, reducing stigma around meals, alleviating stress due to labor and supply shortages, and easing schools’ administrative burdens.”
The report reveals that, of the 62 large districts surveyed, 98 percent identified supply chain disruptions as a challenge and 95 percent identified labor shortages as a challenge. The challenges to provide school meals would be even greater if not for child nutrition waivers.
School nutrition staff reported the waivers’ numerous benefits of offering meals to all students at no charge, regardless of household income.
- 95 percent reported the nationwide waivers helped reduce child hunger in their school district.
- 89 percent reported the nationwide waivers made it easier for parents and guardians.
- 85 percent reported that the nationwide waivers eliminated any stigma associated with school meals.
- 84 percent reported the nationwide waivers eased administrative work.
- 82 percent reported the nationwide waivers supported academic achievement.
“School nutrition staff will need continued support into the summer and through the upcoming school year,” added Guardia. “Lawmakers must use every tool in their toolbox to help schools respond to the ongoing and evolving impacts of the pandemic as well as its aftermath.”
Extending USDA nationwide waiver authority beyond June 30, 2022, through the 2022–2023 school year in the next legislative vehicle will make free school meals available to all students, helping to support school nutrition finances by increasing participation, reducing administrative work, and eliminating school meals debt.
The Large School District Report is a companion report to the recently released The Reach of Breakfast and Lunch: A Look at Pandemic and Pre-Pandemic Participation. FRAC’s The Reach report provides an in-depth analysis of participation in breakfast and lunch before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For 50 years, the Food Research & Action Center has been the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.