As families across Kentucky are preparing for Thanksgiving dinner, schools are preparing for how they are going to feed kids next summer and school year.

With 1 in 6 Kentucky kids experiencing hunger, the in-school and summer meals schools serve are more important than ever. However, without Congress taking quick action to extend federal COVID-19 era programs and waivers, many schools will not be able to continue operating these programs and many Kentucky families will not have the financial resources they need to feed their families. 

To ensure they can serve summer meals, schools need an extension of the congregate feeding waiver. This waiver has allowed schools to better meet students where they are at, increasing the number of meal sites they can operate and allowing them to deliver meals directly to students. This waiver is especially important in rural areas of the state, which have lower rates of summer meal participation despite 86% of children most at risk of food insecurity living in rural areas. 

Even with congregate waivers in place, summer meals cannot reach all children, especially those in rural and remote areas of the state. A permanent Summer-EBT program, similar to the Pandemic-EBT program, would help families fill the hole in their budget left by the loss of school meals during the summer months and support the food security of kids. 

Another way Congress can could support the food security of families is an expansion of the Community Eligibility Provision, which allows high- poverty schools to serve meals to all students for free. This expansion of free school meals is especially important right now, as families are facing historic levels of inflation and food price increases between 9.5-10.5%. Increasing access to free meals in schools would take some of the financial burden of inflation off of families, ensuring families have the money to feed their children outside of school hours and pay for other necessities. 

Just like families are facing the realities of inflation, so are school districts. There are several other policies that Congress can pass to help schools struggling with inflation: 

  • Increasing the reimbursement for meals served, which would allow schools to both purchase healthier foods and weather staffing troubles, supply chain disruptions, and inflation. 
  • Providing equipment grants to school nutrition departments so they have the funds to update equipment and expand capacity to serve healthy and locally grown foods to students. 

As we are planning for Thanksgiving and school cafeterias are planning for next year, Congress needs to plan to quickly address child nutrition. Kentucky’s schools, families, and kids can’t wait.