Kids will get free meals throughout the summer thanks to new legislation
When children rely on school as their primary food source, the summer break can leave many hungry. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called this one of the downsides of the summer months.
“A lot of kids often go hungry, because they don't have access to the school meals they would have when they're going to school every day,” Gillibrand said. “In typical summers we see increased food insecurity, and especially because of COVID.”
The senator was a patron of the Keep Kids Fed Act, which extends pandemic school meal waivers through the summer while also reimbursing schools at a higher rate to offset food inflation and labor costs.
Gillibrand said roughly 30 million children have been receiving free or low-cost lunches at school, and that COVID-19, inflation and at-home learning are putting extra stress on kids and families. She said the strain hasn't ended, but the waiver extension provides temporary relief.
Rochester Mayor Malik Evans says this legislation provides comfort to those who are struggling to feed their children. He added that it will also rescue millions of children from hunger, while assuring parents and guardians that their children will not go hungry.
“With so much craziness going on it's easy to sometimes forget about our young people,” Evans said. “This legislation replaces empty bellies with smiling faces.”
Foodlink is a local program that will benefit from the waiver extension. The chief operating officer, Terra Keller, said the funding will help the nonprofit create more innovative solutions to feeding families outside the school setting, including their mobile grab-and-go service.
“We will now reengage with meal sites and other community partners such as the YMCA, the [recreational] centers with the city and the city school district to determine how we get more food into the bellies of the children,” Keller said.
She shared that the initial waiver allowed Foodlink to serve an extra 40,000 meals to families over the past 2 years.
Despite its short-term status, Gillibrand said two other pieces of legislation are in the works, the WIC Act and the Summer Meals Act. Both, she said, will provide more permanent solutions for women, infants and school children. She anticipates these bills passing at the end of the year.
“No kid can learn, thrive or develop if they don't have good nutritious meals, and that's why these meals are so important,” Gillibrand said.