Groups raise concerns over ending of federal free school lunch program

It’s back to school season, and for many families that brings good but sobering news – they know their kids will be properly fed. But for some, concerns are growing that the ending of a pandemic era program could impact the ability for children to receive food.

The hunger-fighting group Share Our Strength estimates 1 million D.C., Virginia and Maryland kids total are on free or reduced lunch programs.

These groups are raising concerns about a pandemic era program for universal free lunch that’s set to expire on September 30.

Congress had previously allowed the Department of Agriculture to grant waivers to allow for a universal free lunch for all students, but now that is coming under the threat of ending. 

"We had really hoped with the extension of the waivers at the end of June that this would have been one of them that Congress, or USDA was able to extend. And we’d really hoped that reduced price category would be eliminated for another year to cushion that blow that families are continuing to face," Meredith Jorss from Share Our Strength tells FOX 5.

READ MORE: Free school lunch program launched during pandemic ending soon

Adding to the problem, experts say many parents are unaware of the changes about to happen to school meal programs.

"There’s definitely a lack of awareness about the different situations facing school meal programs this year, and with schools short on staff, from administrators to teachers, to food service workers, many are struggling to mount a robust outreach campaign that can reach parents with the information that they need," explains Jorss.

"There are a lot of parents, and I appreciate you doing the story, who don’t know, that they’re going to go to school and in short order, they’re going to say ‘mom, I have to pay again, and they’re going to have to scramble and figure things out," Michael J. Wilson from Maryland Hunger Solutions tell FOX 5.

Wilson emphasizes that, despite the expiration, free and reduced lunches will still be available for those who qualify. But, many families will have to re-apply with their school at the beginning of the year.

As of it stands, Congress has not agreed on an extension for the universal free lunch program. A bill passed out of a House committee on a party line vote, but hasn’t been brought to the floor.