- The number of after-school dinners served nationwide dropped by 23% between October 2021 and October 2022 — the first time supper participation decreased since the federal Afterschool Meal Program began in 2010, a Tuesday report by the Food Research & Action Center said.
- More than 1.15 million children received a meal from the program on an average weekday in October 2022. However, over 1.6 million low-income children missed their opportunity to eat an after-school meal because the meals weren’t served at all. That equates to $116.5 million missed in federal reimbursements, according to FRAC, an advocate for expanding the Afterschool Meal Program.
- To increase access to after-school meals, the FRAC report recommends Congress lower the area eligibility requirements to allow more communities to participate. There’s also a need to raise federal funding for after-school programs and to streamline the Afterschool Meal Program and Summer Food Service Program so sponsors don’t have to duplicate administrative hurdles, FRAC said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Child and Adult Care Food Program provides funding to after-school programs in low-income areas to serve meals and snacks to students 18 years or younger.
Though after-school meal participation remained steady throughout the pandemic’s disruptions to school operations, FRAC noted that momentum has since slowed down. After-school programs served 1.42 million children in October 2019, 1.45 million in October 2020 and 1.49 million in October 2021 — but just 1.15 million in October 2022.
The USDA also issued pandemic-era waivers allowing all communities to serve after-school suppers and snacks. However, when the USDA waivers expired in 2022, the number of operating after-school sites serving food dropped by 5,089 from 2021, leaving 38,034 remaining sites, FRAC said.
“Afterschool meals faced setbacks at a time when children urgently needed access to afterschool programming to help overcome the educational, health, and social and emotional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Luis Guardia, president of FRAC, in a statement on Tuesday.
The dip in after-school meal usage reflects a similar trend noted in a separate FRAC report in July, which showed signs of overall drops in school meal participation after the expiration of pandemic waivers that temporarily provided school meals to all students nationwide.
Specifically, FRAC found 54% of 91 large school districts reported a decrease in both breakfast and lunches served.
However, more states are working toward establishing their own universal school meal programs. On top of that, the USDA recently expanded the Community Eligibility Provision, allowing more high-poverty schools and districts to serve free school meals to all students.