School Meal Exemption Bill passed by House, Senate advance: NPR

Los Angeles Unified School District Food Service workers are already packing hundreds of free school lunches in plastic bags.

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Los Angeles Unified School District Food Service workers are already packing hundreds of free school lunches in plastic bags.

Damien Dvorgnis / AP

Lawmakers are scrambling for an hour to pass a bill that would extend the school meal exemption for epidemic diseases over the summer and next school year.

The House on Thursday passed a bill of about ً 3 billion, 376-42, which would continue to provide more free meals to low-income families but not to all students who have been receiving them for the past two years.

Schools have noticed rising costs of food, gas and labor. Congress-approved exemptions at the onset of epidemics relieved regulations that governs how, when and who gets school meals that expire in seven days.

Congress could not reach an agreement in time to include in the budget signed by President Biden in March after Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell called for an extension.

A bipartisan group in both houses agreed earlier this week on a budget-neutral bill, now called the Cape Kids Feed Act, which would extend some exemptions until next academic year, but not others.

Despite the smooth journey in the House, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Is blocking the bill in the Senate. Supporters still hope to reach the president by the end of the week.

The bill will fully extend the summer for all minors to allow students to have food delivery and pick-up and drop-off options. It will also increase the flexibility of the supply chain and exceed the pre-epidemic federal compensation rates for the 2022-2023 academic year.

But the biggest mistake is to get rid of the flexibility that suspended eligibility requirements for free and low-cost meal applications, and provided free meals to every student. Although the bill provides free meals to more students, families will need to resume filling out applications to become eligible.

What is being forgiven?

Prior to the epidemic, federal laws require schools to meet specific nutritional requirements that govern what they can and cannot serve students. They had to serve their food in “gathering” settings, such as cafeteria or park. Families had to meet their income needs to receive free or low-cost meals under the National School Lunch Program. And in the summer, only areas where 50% of children qualify for free or low-cost meals can run a summer meal program.

They went out the window during the epidemic.

“[Waivers] Really provided a lifeline, because in many rural and suburban communities, poverty is so widespread in large geographies, “said Jillian Meyer, director of partnership and campaign strategies at No Kid Hungary. 49% of your children are eligible for free or low-cost meals under your Community National School Lunch Program, you cannot run an open summer meal site. “

The school lunch discount allows students to pick up lunch and go by school bus.

Teachers, Jennifer Scandal, left, and Renee Roberts, right, center the school bus, giving lunch to Kelsey Clark.

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Teachers, Jennifer Scandal, left, and Renee Roberts, right, center the school bus, giving lunch to Kelsey Clark.

Brian Anderson / AP

They also provided flexibility for schools when supply chain disruptions began and never ended.

Katie Wilson, executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance, said: “You may be ordering fresh fruit and vegetables and you may be receiving donuts. The supply chain is a disaster. ” “We had a district where he worked for years with a big production house, called them and said, ‘We’re not serving schools anymore. We’re giving you two weeks’ notice.'”

According to the School Nutrition Association, more than 98% of school meal programs reported a shortage of menu items, supplies and packaging, as well as items from manufacturers.

School staff visited grocery stores to buy missing ingredients. But alternative food from the store or another vendor may be more expensive or may not meet nutritional standards.

The rebates also provided additional funding for schools to reduce rising food and labor costs.

Mary Rochelle, program, events and grant coordinator at the Food Services Department in the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, said one of her bread sellers increased prices by 50 percent without notice.

Kirsten Hennessy, director of food and nutrition services for Plymouth Canton Community Schools in Michigan, also saw a 51 percent increase in beef and a 30 percent increase in chicken in her district and a 31 percent increase in employee wages next school year.

The federal government already pays schools a portion of the cost of each meal – a rate that increases with discounts. The congressional hearing about that were exactly where the epidemic came from.

Diane Pratt Heiner, director of media relations at the School Nutrition Association, said: “Schools are expected to have a diet that includes milk, fruits and vegetables, depending on what you pay for the lat. Protein and grains. ” “Epidemics and the aftermath of the supply chain and labor challenges facing the programs have blown the model.”

Getting rid of free food

Schools are preparing to raise food prices, so students who are no longer eligible for free meals will pay more than before the epidemic.

Some schools are preparing to raise food prices, which means families who used to pay before the epidemic will now pay more when the rebate expires. Only students with a family income of 185% poverty level or below will be eligible.

In anticipation of expiration, the USDA extended some flexibility for the states that chose to use them. But only Congress can change the eligibility requirements for free food.

Reaching out to families with young children who are going through the process for the first time, access to technology, language barriers and confusing applications pose challenges for school administrators, especially months-long, according to Rochelle. With Congress limbo.

At East Silver Spring Elementary School, children collect their free meals.

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At East Silver Spring Elementary School, children collect their free meals.

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“Even if we reach out to them and ask them to fill out an application and they do, it’s very likely that they won’t be eligible because the cut-off is very low and depending on where you live. Does not change, “said Rochelle. “So in the Boulder area, our housing costs are three times the national average, and that doesn’t take that into account.”

Looking beyond extension

Regardless of the expansion, a mountain will inevitably come to schools and families until Congress passes a permanent solution.

The creation of virtual schools during epidemics allowed students to still have access to food that they would not otherwise have. Despite McConnell’s attempts to use the waiver to force schools to return privately, many districts continue to learn virtual.

“We ended up building a very successful K-12 virtual academy in our district,” Hansie said, adding that the virtual academy is planning to stay with the discount. “I started looking at the list of kids who were virtual – 46% of them are eligible to eat less for free next year. I won’t be able to feed these kids.”

Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Hansie attended one of the White House hearings this month. In preparation for the conference. Lawyers told authorities that access to food was canceled for another year without insisting on extended universal free meals.

“You’re snatching access,” Hennessy said. “So you want us to talk about methods. [make food accessible]. Well, you came up with a great way to do it, and you just piloted it for a year. “

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