Lack of action by Congress could leave many Florida children hungry for summer

Sky Beard

Without swift action from Congress, children in Florida are at risk of losing access to meals.

That’s because critical child nutrition waivers will soon expire and so far, Congress has failed to authorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend them. These waivers are set to expire on June 30th, right in the midst of the summer when hunger strikes many families even harder. 

These waivers are an important tool that allows schools and community organizations to serve meals in unique ways that work best for their communities, while they grapple with ongoing pandemic-related challenges like supply chain disruptions, rising food and fuel prices, and staffing shortages. 

Yet, in just a few months meal programs will once again be flipped on their heads and forced to transform how they operate. The result is many won’t be able to operate at all. 

Without the flexibility provided by these waivers, many schools will be unable to open summer meal sites. Children in rural communities, who already face barriers to accessing summer meals, will be at particular risk when meal providers will no longer be allowed to meet kids where they are by reimagining traditional summer meal services. 

The flexibility provided by these waivers allows schools across Florida the ability to change meal serving times, allow children to eat outdoors or in smaller groups, provide grab-and-go meal pick-up programs for families with children learning from home, deliver meals to children’s home through bus services, and more. Without these waivers, all of these adaptations will dissipate. 

School food budgets, already taking a hit from rising food costs, will go deeper into the red because of decreased reimbursements.

Nonprofit organizations across the state have noticed an increased need for food assistance amongst people in their communities. 

In addition, the expiration of these waivers comes at a time when many families are already struggling with other changes including the expanded child tax credit not being extended and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits reverting back to pre-pandemic levels, all while communities continue to feel the impact of the pandemic. 

Two years ago, Congress made the right decision in swiftly passing these nutrition waivers. If the past two years have taught Floridians anything, it’s that new challenges can, and will quickly arise at any time. 

Congress and the White House must work together to fix this. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, please don’t pull the rug out from under schools working to feed kids. Make extending these waivers a priority, so we can ensure kids in Florida are nourished next school year. Doing so would fail the 1 in 5 kids facing hunger in Florida. 

Sky Beard is director of No Kid Hungry Florida, a campaign working to end childhood hunger. She can be reached at sbeard@strength.org.   


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