It's unfortunate that it took a global pandemic and economic crisis to make it happen, but one of the best things to come out of the pandemic era was school systems across the country offering universal free lunches to every kid and their families with no questions asked.
Waivers that allowed school systems to distribute food with no questions asked were suppose to expire in the coming months, but the good news is the Biden administration has extended them for the entire next school year (2021-2022) that will begin in the fall.
Child nutrition program waivers, which aimed to cut through red tape to allow kids to eat free even outside normal meal times, were implemented at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when millions of families faced financial strain, hunger and hardship. The waivers allowed schools and community organizations to adapt programs to better meet the needs of children and families.
The waivers allowed all children to eat free and outside of the traditional group settings and mealtimes. They also allowed parents to do curbside pickup of multiple days of food at once for students learning from home, even without the children’s presence, and in many cases for meals to be dropped off at a student’s home if they continue to learn virtually part- or full-time.
As a kid growing up in Central Kentucky, I never had to worry about finding food at home, but most of my friends did. And that is not something I necessarily appreciated at the time. It wasn't until I became an older adult that I realized the privilege of having food at home meant I could skip meals at school while many of my friends ate free or reduced price lunch. They couldn't afford to skip their free lunch because there was no food at home.
For some of them, that undoubtedly contributed to stigma that wouldn't exist if school meal programs were free for everyone by default. And I firmly believe they should be. Navigating the social landscape of being a child and later a teenager is more than difficult enough without worrying about going hungry or being stigmatized for eating free lunches.
The Biden administration has the authority to extend these waivers for another year but, unfortunately, creating a permanent free lunch program is up to Congress. There are Republicans in Congress who believe free lunch only teaches socialism.