House lawmakers have passed a bill extending pandemic school meal waivers but are now waiting on the Senate to approve it, reports NPR.
Free school lunches are set to expire June 30.
Lawmakers in both chambers on Tuesday reached a bipartisan deal that increases the number of students who could qualify for meals based on income.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., announced the new $3 billion deal, along with Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. The legislation, called the Keep Kids Fed Act, would extend some of the waivers passed by Congress at the start of the pandemic that gave relief from regulations to monitor how, when and who gets school meals.
The waivers allowed for lunches to be delivered to students and for students to grab lunches to-go. Prior to the pandemic, federal laws required meals to be served in "congregate" settings, and families had to meet income requirements to receive free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program.
The legislation would mean COVID-19 rules for school meals through the end of next school year.
"[Waivers] really provided a lifeline, because in a lot of rural and suburban communities, poverty is so widely dispersed over large geographies," said Jillien Meier, director of partnerships and campaign strategies at No Kid Hungry. "So even if 49% of your kids in your community qualifies for free or reduced price meals under the National School Lunch Program, you can't operate an open summer meal site."
"This will give our schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to deal with ongoing food service issues," Stabenow said in a news release. "Congress needs to act swiftly to pass this critical help."
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is blocking the bill, but Democrats are still hopeful it will get through.
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