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Free school meals for all are ending.  But House cuts a deal on summer meals, other nutritional benefits for the kids.

The House on Thursday passed a bill to expand food assistance measures for children, drawing praise from advocates who said the legislation would help millions of children gain access to meals as inflation makes increasingly difficult for many parents to make ends meet.

It passed the House by a vote of 376 to 42. The bill awaits a vote in the Senate.

The bipartisan legislation would spare some of the dozens of child nutrition waivers that Congress has authorized to issue to the Department of Agriculture. Pandemic-era waivers were due to expire next Thursday.

But the new bill, titled the Keep Kids Fed Act, would not extend the most groundbreaking of federal waivers: the one that made school breakfasts and lunches free for all students, regardless of family income.

Still, hunger advocates have expressed relief that a deal has been reached. The legislation would allow providers of summer meal programs to operate with more flexibility and support schools in the coming school year as they continue to deal with supply chain disruptions and labor shortages.

“Even though this bill doesn’t have everything we hoped and dreamed of, it still has a lot,” said Lisa Davis, senior vice president of the No Kid Hungry campaign at Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization. non-profit that fights against hunger and hunger. poverty. “The most important thing is that they bring relief to families who are on the brink.”

Crystal FitzSimons, director of in-school and out-of-school programs at the anti-hunger organization Food Research and Action Center, said it was “exciting to have a bipartisan compromise” on children’s nutrition programs.

“It should be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

Prior to March 2020, children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty level were eligible for free school meals, while those from families with incomes between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty level were eligible for free school meals. poverty were entitled to reduced-price meals. through the Ministry of Agriculture’s National School Meals Programme.

The new bill would eliminate discounted meals, allowing those who qualify to get free meals rather than paying 40 cents for lunch and 30 cents for breakfast. Advocates have pushed for this in the past, said Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, a trade organization representing more than 50,000 school nutrition employees.

“While 40 cents for lunch might not seem like a lot, if you have three kids and you’re trying to feed them five days a week, it can really add up,” she said, adding that for the In the 2021-22 school year, a family of four would have had to earn $34,450 or less to qualify for free meals or $49,025 or less to qualify for discounted meals.

Universal school meals have removed the need for paperwork to qualify for free or reduced-price meals: For the past two years, all students have simply been offered free breakfast and lunch. The adjustment to fulfilling applications could come as a surprise, or it might not be properly communicated to families, Davis said.

“I’m really worried for families who may not know they’re going to have to take positive action to get their kids to get those meals, and there are kids across the country who will fall through the cracks. “

—Lisa Davis, No Kid Hungry

“As we come back, I am really worried for families who may not know that they are going to have to take positive action to ensure that their children get these meals, and there are children across the country who will fall to through the cracks,” she said.

The Keep Kids Fed Act was a last-minute compromise after the extension of waivers was left out of the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress this year. Politico reported that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republicans opposed expanding school lunch funding because of its cost, about $11 billion; an aide to McConnell denied this, saying there had never been a proposal to reject.

The Keep Kids Fed Act was introduced on Tuesday by the senses. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and John Boozman, R-Ark., and Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Virginia Foxx, RN.C. It would be paid through offsets, which means it is budget neutral.

“With 90% of our schools still facing challenges as they return to normal operations, this will give our schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to deal with lingering issues. of food service. Congress must act quickly to pass this essential aid,” Stabenow said in a statement Tuesday.

The flexibility the measure would extend to summer meal program sites would be a lifesaver for many families, advocates said. Among the things it would do: Venues could continue to offer take-out meals so that parents can have multiple meals for their children at the same time, instead of having to bring their children back and forth each time to eat on square . There would also be fewer geographic restrictions than there would be if the waivers expired.

“Having summer meal sites in communities across the country where struggling families can easily eat their meals is going to be essential to help support the household budget, reduce economic stress, reduce the household food budget” , said FitzSimons. “Ensuring that these summer meal sites are accessible in all communities across the country will be a critical support in alleviating the stress that so many families are feeling at this time.”

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