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Federal Meals Flexibilities Extended For Families Through The Summer

Resolution on USDA Food WaiversLANSING – State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice applauded Michigan’s U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow for her diligent work on behalf of children in Michigan and across the nation as Congress enacted the Keep Kids Fed Act.

President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan bill into law on Saturday that will provide a three-month extension of free universal school meals, just days before current funds expire June 30.

Although a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives was used as the final version that was passed by Congress, a similar bill was sponsored by Democratic Senator Stabenow to extend the critical federal waivers to address childhood hunger in the summer months and expand funding for meals during the 2022-2023 school year.

Sen. Stabenow, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, was a driving force to get a bill passed through Congress before June 30.

“I want to thank Senator Stabenow for her hard work to get this important legislation through Congress so quickly,” Dr. Rice said. “Our children need the security of having healthy meals to get them through the summer. Extending the meal flexibilities that existed during the pandemic relieves some of the pressure on families for the time being.”

Michigan’s State Board of Education adopted a resolution at its June 14 meeting to raise awareness of this dilemma and strongly support efforts by Congress to pass legislation fixing the problem.

Earlier this year, Congress had not extended the waiver authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for child nutrition programs beyond June 30, 2022, which stripped USDA of its previous authority to provide higher meal reimbursement rates, allow all schools to serve free meals to all students, and extend the broad regulatory flexibility on which these programs have relied for the last two years.

With President Biden signing the bill on Saturday, summer sponsors are allowed to serve free meals to all children during the summer months regardless of family income, including schools serving breakfast and lunch under the national school lunch and school breakfast programs. Extended school year programs and all meals served under the Meet Up and Eat Up Summer Food Service Program are also included.

The new law also provides increased reimbursement rates for school breakfast and lunch programs and childcare providers beginning July 1. USDA was given authority to extend waivers that will make it easier to feed all students, especially those in rural areas, through flexible options such as meal delivery and “grab and go” programs. These flexibilities will also help schools streamline their meal operations and continue operating despite supply chain disruptions through the 2022-2023 school year.

The new law does not extend free meals for all children through the next school year. As a result of a late compromise to get the votes necessary for passage, the provision to eliminate the reduced-price meal category to provide even more children with free meals was not included in the final bill either.

Healthy meals help ensure children are well fed and ready to learn, a key part of Goal 3 of Michigan’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan to improving the health, safety, and wellness of all learners.