OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) — School districts across Oklahoma are bracing for changes to their lunch programs as several waivers will end next month.
According to Hunger Free Oklahoma, ending the meal waivers will place a burden on Oklahoma school districts, and thousands of families throughout the state, and could not come at a worse time due to current inflation.
In 2020, the federal government authorized waivers to allow school districts and summer meal sites to serve students safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, the government reauthorized the waivers for the 2021-2022 school year, but Congress recently blocked an attempt to extend them further.
"It's to kind of get us back on a normal track of what things look like pre-pandemic,” said Oklahoma City Public School's Director of School Nutrition Services, Shonia Hall.
The waivers provide free meals for every child and allow sites to send home multiple days' worth of meals and snacks at one time. But on June 30th, that will come to an end.
"In the state of Oklahoma, there are over 500 school districts throughout and you know a number of students that the waivers will impact," said Hall.
"You’re talking about a large number of students of families no matter where that number falls," said Executive Director of Hunger Free Oklahoma, Chris Bernard.
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, they have applied for multiple federal waivers for the 2022-2023 school year.
They have not been approved yet.
Meanwhile, districts like Oklahoma City Public Schools are concerned about the looming deadline of when these waivers will expire.
"We’re hopeful there are some bills in Congress and you know it because it’s a federal program, so we will see kind of where that takes us," said Hall. "But it is certainly concerning and we continue to share our concerns with that with our national school nutrition Associations."
According to Hunger Free Oklahoma, Oklahoma is historically the worst state in the nation with kids who are on free and reduced lunch, and the State Department of Education says meals will no longer be free even if the federal waivers were approved, students will only be able to get free lunch if they qualify for it, and fill out the free and reduced meal form.
“It will place a bigger burden on school districts who are already struggling to make ends meet they’re gonna lose revenue potentially it’s going to have a domino effect on systems and On people,” said Bernard.
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