CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Throughout the pandemic, schools across the country have had the flexibility to provide free lunches for all students, distribute lunches to homes, and provide substitutes for meals when there were shortages. Those options are set to expire on June 30.

Amanda Harrison, Director, Office of Nutrition, WVDE

“It basically means that the clock resets to the way we operated back in 2019,” said Amanda Harrison, Director of the West Virginia Department of Education Office of Nutrition.

The consequences will vary depending on what schools are eligible for the Community Eligibility Provision, which requires school districts to fill out applications to qualify for free lunches based on the percentage of student participation in programs like SNAP. Students in districts that don’t qualify for CEP, who don’t qualify for the free and reduced lunch program would be hit with a lunch bill for the first time in two years.

It also means that if a school has to go back to virtual for any reason, schools cannot distribute lunches aside from shelf-stable food to students’ homes as meals cannot be taken off site, and that schools cannot make substitutions for meals when there is a shortage.

Support Kids Not Red Tape Act of 2022

A bill introduced in the US Senate on March 31 seeks to extend those options for schools. Schools were given the flexibility through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s authority, which was expanded under a child nutrition waiver that was included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The Support Kids Not Red Tape Act of 2022 would extend the child nutrition waiver until September 30, 2022, giving schools another year of flexibility. This bill does not inherently provide funding for free lunches, as the decision would still be up to the USDA.

“Families across America are continuing to face some pretty vicious challenges. Rising food prices, empty grocery store shelves, and the loss of some pretty vital economic assistance like the expanded Child Tax Credit which ended in December,” explained Jamie Bussel, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Senior Program Officer, “All of this continues to make a situation pretty precarious for kids and families in this country, and school meals are a powerful way to mitigate some of those extraordinary challenges.”

The West Virginia Department of Education has been advocating for this bill as well. However, Harrison said that despite what happens with the bill, schools will do what they can to make sure kids whose families are still struggling are fed. School districts across the state are now preparing for the waiver to expire by looking at their options to adopt CEP.

“We all want things to go back to the way they were in 2019,” said Harrison, “But when we’re ready, and this isn’t it.”