- Ahead of the June 30 expiration of the Keep Kids Fed Act’s increased federal reimbursement rates for school meals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Friday it will provide nearly $1.3 billion to states and territories to buy domestic foods for school meal programs.
- The extra funds will help address ongoing issues with food and labor costs that the USDA said will continue to impact school meal programs during the 2023-24 school year. The Keep Kids Fed Act temporarily increased federal reimbursement rates for school lunches by 40 cents and breakfasts by 15 cents.
- A letter sent Friday by 18 national organizations to leaders of relevant congressional appropriations and authorizing committees called for a one-year extension of the temporary federal reimbursement increases. Signees included the School Nutrition Association, the American Federation of Teachers and AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
The organizations’ letter to Congress expressed understanding that the intention of the Keep Kids Fed Act was to help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. But even as the national public health emergency has ended, the problems continue, according to the letter.
“Many of the same economic challenges remain, including high inflation, supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, and rising food insecurity,” the organizations wrote. “Once this funding expires, many districts and families will struggle to afford to feed students in such difficult economic circumstances without additional support.”
In addition, a drop in federal reimbursement rates may push districts away from opting into the Community Eligibility Provision, the letter said. That measure allows qualifying high-poverty schools and districts to serve free meals to all students without requiring families to file an application.
Financial sustainability is a key factor eligible districts consider before moving forward with CEP, and reduced reimbursement rates could very well sway school leaders away from an opt-in, the organizations said. The result, they said, is that “declining participation in CEP would reduce student access to free meals at a time when there is a rising need.”
The USDA is expected to release final rules over the proposed expansion of CEP in April 2024.
The agency has also provided almost $3.8 billion in additional purchasing support for school meals since December 2021.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., proposed the bipartisan Helping Schools Feed Kids Act of 2023 in March to extend the increased school meal reimbursement rates through the 2023-24 school year. However, the bill hasn’t advanced since its introduction.