Hamilton County school staff react to extension of federal school lunch waivers
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - School districts across the country are taking a sigh of relief, after Congress extended school lunch waivers put in place at the start of the pandemic.
Those waivers were set to expire Thursday.
Now, they’ll be used to feed millions of children through the next school year.
But one Florida district says there are still challenges ahead.
The Hamilton County School District has the highest rate of hungry kids in all of Florida, according to No Kid Hungry, and 1/3 of children in the County are considered food insecure.
“We didn’t serve as many,” Food Services Director Ida Daniels said. “We probably served a third of what we used to serve during the COVID times.”
Daniels said she’s thankful Congress extended these waivers, but the fact that it didn’t get passed sooner means some kids are struggling now.
“They come every day, and that’s the first thing they want to do,” said Emily Lumpkin, summer program director for Hamilton County Schools. “They want to go to the lunchroom and get something to eat.”
Thursday was the last day of the district’s summer program, where students can count on breakfast and lunch every day.
“That meal is so important to them,” Lumpkin said.
Now that the program is ending, Lumpkin says she’s worried that some of the kids who participated might not know where their next meal is coming from.
“After this program ends, I’m very concerned about what they’re gonna do,” Lumpkin said.
Last year, the district provided meals throughout the summer, using buses to deliver them directly to students’ homes.
This was made possible by national legislation, giving more resources to schools to fight hunger during the pandemic.
But that federal program was set to expire and extended at the last minute, meaning schools like Hamilton County had to scale down their summer meal programs.
Now, students are left with a gap between the end of a month-long summer program and the start of a new school year.
“What Congress passed was a compromise,” Eleni Towns, associate director of No Kid Hungry, said.
Towns says No Kid Hungry sees the extension of waivers as a step in the right direction, but the legislation also comes with some changes.
It will no longer allow schools to feed all kids for free. Instead, some students will be charged full or reduced prices for meals based on their income.
Towns believes this means some students may not get the help they need.
“There are many families that face food insecurity that don’t qualify for programs,” she said.
If you’re a parent searching for free meals for your kid, you can text the word “FOOD” to 304304 to find the meal distribution site closest to you.
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