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Will School Lunches Be Free for the 2022/23 School Year?

During the 2019/20 school year, the remote/hybrid 2020/21 school year and the 2021/22 school year, the USDA provided waivers that allowed schools across the country to provide free lunches and breakfasts for all students, regardless of whether their families qualified under income guidelines. The results were positive.

Some background into the National School Lunch Program (NSLP): Pre-pandemic school lunches were free, reduced ($.40) or full price. All meals that met the federal meal pattern were reimbursable by the federal government.

School lunch programs also had two options to feed children over the summer, Seamless Summer Option (SSO) or Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Both provide free lunches over the summer months.

See this chart for a comparison of all of these programs.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) has been lobbying Congress to extend the waivers so school lunch programs could continue to provide free meals during the school year. In March, these waivers were not included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) spending bill. This means universal free meals had been eliminated.

In June, President Joe Biden did sign the Keep Kids Fed Act, a bipartisan bill that will help school lunch programs but falls short of the previous waivers.

The new bill:

• Provides nationwide waiver authority for school meal flexibilities that do not increase costs;
• Allows waivers related to the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) during the summer months;
• Increases reimbursement rates for the 2022-2023 school year by an additional 15 cents per breakfast
and 40 cents per lunch; and
• Provides enhanced support to the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program (CACFP)

What about here in Massachusetts?

Governor Baker just signed the state budget, which includes funding for school meals for the 2022-2023 school year. We asked Deb Mugford, the Tewksbury Director of Food and Nutrition Services and the current President of the Massachusetts School Nutrition Association, for her reaction.

“Indeed this will have an impact,” said Mugford. “First and foremost, it’s a safety net to ensure that NO KID goes hungry, eliminates the stigma of free meals and puts all kids on the same playing field for academic success! Here in our district, we have seen a considerable increase in student participation over the past year. This is much needed as still many families are struggling with the impacts of inflation and food insecurity, and child nutrition programs are still combating escalating food and paper costs, as well as supply shortages and disruptions.”

She also adds that even though school meals are free, she encourages families to fill out the free/reduced lunch application because of the additional benefits you can receive.

This flyer was from 2020 school year but the information is still current.

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