Report that school meal waivers are a game-changer during the pandemic / Public News Service

During the COVID health emergency, Congress cut many red tape in US Department of Agriculture (USDA) school lunch programs, and a new report has suggested the program’s success is set to continue over the course of the next school year.

Crystal FitzSimons, director of curricular and after-school programs at the Food Research and Action Center, said the waivers increased the number of fruits and vegetables consumed by children, eliminated school lunch debt, made it easier for parents and guardians and reduced administrative costs. fees for schools.

“Omaha Public Schools reported that being able to provide meals to all students for free reduced child hunger, supported academic achievement, eliminated the stigma associated with school meals, and improved student behavior,” said pointed out FitzSimons.

Nearly six of the nation’s 10 large school districts surveyed said waivers helped improve racial equity, and 95% said they reduced child hunger. Waivers are due to expire on June 30. Critics of free meals for all students have warned the scheme could lead to government dependency.

FitzSimons countered that just like adults, kids need fuel to focus, focus and learn. She pointed to years of research showing that children who have access to healthy meals do better in school, making it easier for them to land adult jobs that pay enough to not need government assistance. .

“We have public schools that provide textbooks and transportation to get kids to school,” FitzSimons pointed out. “Ensuring children who are in school seven hours a day have the nutrition they need is critical to ensuring their success as adults.”

Omaha Public Schools reported significant operational challenges during the 2021-2022 school year. FitzSimons noted that supply chain disruptions, labor shortages and rising food prices are unlikely to be fully resolved by the time schools reopen in August. She added that expanding USDA waivers will also help kids catch up and get back on track.

“And making sure they can access a free school meal next year is going to be really key in helping to overcome the impact of the pandemic that we’ve seen on children, on families and also on schools,” said FitzSimons. .

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