Free school meals have gained ground, but school's out for summer

1 year ago 47

It’s getting close to summer and school vacation has started in many states, soon to be all of them. For most kids, that’s exciting news. For kids experiencing food insecurity, it can mean hunger as they lose access to free meals at school.

Many areas do have a free summer meals program, either through USDA programs or through local efforts. But those are a patchwork of programs that can be hard to access, forcing people to go to specific locations within limited times. Particularly in rural areas, getting a free meal might mean making a drive that wipes out any cost savings.

School meals, by contrast, are easier to deliver. The kids are in school, where there’s a cafeteria. All states or districts need to do is … feed them. But that remains a challenge, thanks to the nation’s broken politics.

Universal free school lunch was temporarily a reality under COVID-19 relief laws, and it made a difference. A 2021 survey of large school districts found that 95% of the districts said universal free meals reduced child hunger, 85% said it eliminated the stigma that school meals are for poor kids, and 82% said it supported academic achievement. Free meals for everyone also makes it easier on adults, reducing paperwork—89% of the districts said it was easier for parents and 84% said it eased administrative work.

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