On behalf of The Rockefeller Foundation, I applaud recent federal actions to help ensure America’s children have enough to eat this coming school year. The Congressional passage of the Keep Kids Fed Act and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to strengthen child nutrition programs total nearly $4 billion in funding and extend many of the critical child nutrition waivers initiated during Covid-19 through the end of the 2022-23 school year. As we have seen, these waivers, alongside the funding needed to purchase nutritious food, give schools the flexibility needed to guarantee that children have access to healthy meals every day.
However, Congress did not provide a full school year extension of certain waivers that expand free school meals for all students regardless of income, limiting this provision to the end of the summer. It is imperative that lawmakers act to ensure free school meals reach more children. America’s child hunger crisis, which was greatly exacerbated by the pandemic, is far from over. School meals are our most effective program for nourishing 30 million children across the United States who depend on them to enable their long-term success. School nutrition is a good investment for our country: every dollar invested in these programs returns $2 in societal benefits by improving health outcomes and reducing childhood poverty.
This summer’s actions in Washington will help. But to ensure that all children have the nutrition to thrive amid inflation, supply chain disruptions, and climate change shocks, the United States will need to make additional investments in school nutrition programs that are proven to benefit the health and wellbeing of our nation’s children.