Federal waivers ending, cuts to school summer feeding programs

Many public schools across the country will now have to cut back on summer meals for students. The federal waiver that allowed them to serve free meals is expiring at the end of June.

Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) says it will have to cut at least one meal a day. That waiver allowed schools to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner to families for free. OCPS says it will stop serving dinners in July and every student won’t eat free anymore. Next year, families will start applying again to get free or reduced-cost lunch.  

The government issued waivers during the pandemic to give schools more flexibility to feed students. OCPS says families really needed it. Staff served roughly 6 million meals last summer alone. The food waiver was renewed several times, but wasn’t included in the last federal budget.

The USDA worked to get those waiver extensions for schools. A spokesperson sent a statement to FOX 35 News saying, in part, "We are disappointed that we weren’t able to secure needed resources and flexibilities to help school meals and summer feeding programs deal with the serious challenges they are facing."  

OCPS staff say even cutting one meal could impact families in need - especially as we watch inflation drive grocery prices higher.  

"It helps so much when you think about the dollars during the week – especially when you think about the fact you know kids are going to enjoy meals. It’s such a savings when you can help feed your children and save money and maybe put those dollars towards something else," said Lora Gilbert, Senior Director Food and Nutrition Program for Orange County Public Schools. 

OCPS says this also has a ripple effect. Leaders say they’ll likely scale back staff by 200 to 300 hundred people in July. They won't need as many people because they won't cook as many meals.

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