10M US kids to be impacted when universal access to free school meals ends this summer

The program that helped 10 million students across the U.S. get free school meals during COVID-19 is now set to expire.

This comes on top of inflation and rising gas prices across the country.

One single mom told ABC13 she expects her grocery bill to double, something many families just getting back on their feet from the pandemic can't afford. With prices rising on pretty much everything, this comes as a big shock to millions of families.

The $1.5 trillion spending bill that President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11 fails to extend crucial funding and flexibility provided by Congress for school meal programs.

The COVID relief packages passed in 2020 and 2021 added $8.8 billion to the government's budget for child nutrition programs and authorized the USDA to issue "waivers" relaxing program requirements. The waivers enabled universal access to free lunch for most of the past two years.

As Congress cut temporary COVID relief spending, $13.6 billion was added in aid for Ukraine.

Families in the U.S. using universal free school meals were put on notice that the program will come to an end on June 30.

The long list of USDA waivers has given schools more money to pay for meals, allowed schools to serve more grab-and-go meals and massively cut red tape in a variety of ways.

Schools and families expected at least one more year of aid, causing many to now fear that Congress' inability to act will mean millions of children go hungry.

"I spend a lot of time with my budget and I'm very good at doing the best that I can with what I have," Meighen Lovelace said. "But there are times that you cut things that you never thought you would cut. And sometimes food is one of them."

It's not just families who will be affected. Schools have to follow certain nutritional guides.

The School Nutrition Association put out an alert last week, urging Congress to rethink getting rid of the waivers for at least a little bit longer, giving families more time to prepare.

The association warns that as some schools have to adjust spending, they could see a ripple effect that impacts things like technology and staffing.

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