(NewsNation) — On July 1, the universal free school lunch will be no more.
The federal pandemic-era waivers that provided free meals to all students, regardless of economic status, is expiring June 30. Since former President Donald Trump signed the COVID-19 aid package in 2020, 10 million additional children have been able to eat free school meals regularly.
Millions more received after-school dinners and families were given the additional flexibility to pick up meals for their kids. The program’s expiration will have varying impacts across New York and New Jersey.
There is some good news for students in New York City. The expiration of the lunch program won’t impact public school students in the five boroughs, a Department of Education spokesperson said. The waiver’s expiration will impact public school students in the rest of the state, according to the New York State Education Department.
Though the USDA waiver expires on June 30, the organization is allowing for some flexibility during the summer of 2022 and the 2022-2023 school year, an NYSED official said. The NYSED got USDA approval to issue waivers to use these flexibilities.
During the summer, meals served in New York through the Summer Food Service Program will be free, but the availability will be limited to “designated high need areas or specific groups of children identified as high need,” according to the NYSED. Once the upcoming school year starts, there is no allowance to provide free meals to students regardless of income.
Federal lawmakers have considered extending the flexibilities around meal waivers for longer. The NYSED sent a letter to the entire New York State Congressional delegation urging them to get legislation it passed.
In New Jersey, the Department of Agriculture handles the school lunch program.
“It is the Murphy Administration’s priority to ensure that all school children in New Jersey have access to healthy and nutritious meals as outlined in the guidelines of the USDA’s National School Lunch Program,” a spokesperson said. “It is important to note that those eligible for free and reduced meals under the National School Lunch Program will continue to be served after the USDA’s pandemic-related provisions for feeding all children expire at the end of June.”
Katie Wilson, executive director of Urban School Food Alliance, discussed what the expiration of the lunch program will mean for schools and students during an appearance on NewsNation’s “Morning in America.”
“Families are gonna have a shock to the system,” Wilson said. “As if things aren’t hard enough with rising prices and trying to keep everything in track, trying to go back to work.”
A lot of families rely on the program. For some, they are grateful for the convenience, but for others, this is the only food they’ll get, Wilson said.
“All of a sudden, in the middle of the summer meals program, we’re going to have no school meals for these children unless we identify what their income level is at their family setting,” Wilson said. “So this is gonna be, for us, catastrophic.”
According to Wilson, Urban School Food Alliance represents the 18 largest cities in the country with numerous sites across each city.
A lot of small, faith-based, community-based organizations also do summer meals,” Wilson said “And a lot of them have said, no, not this year, because it’s just not stable enough for us.”
The organizations don’t know whether they’re going to be able to feed all children or not.
“So for the children that come to these sites,” Wilson said, “it’s going to be catastrophic.”
School districts are still seeing severe supply chain issues, according to Wilson.
“We don’t know if a truck is gonna come and if it comes, you don’t know what’s on it,” she said.
Wilson said districts are seeing a 40% to 75% increase in costs as the federal reimbursement rate is declining.
“Right now with the waivers, we’re getting a much higher reimbursement rate, which is helping to cover that cost,” she said. “It’s helping the school district to reset and come back financially from all of this, but on July 1, that’s another thing that will happen, is that the reimbursement rate will also go down about 40 cents a meal. So this is gonna be really difficult for the school district to continue to do business.”
In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an adjustment in school meal reimbursements to help schools continue to serve children healthy and nutritious meals, putting an estimated $750 million more into school meal programs across the nation this year.
“It sounds like a great number, but it is for a variety of things,” Wilson said. “There’s certain constraints that come with that. So each district will get a little bit of something, but it’s not near enough to make sure that all of the children in the United States that need food right now are going to get food once these waivers are gone.”
Watch the full interview with Katie Wilson in the video player at the top of the page.