School Meal Participation Dramatically Increased in 2021–2022 School Year in Washington, D.C. As Kids Returned to School and to Free School Meals, Report Finds
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D.C. Hunger Solutions Urges Congress to Make Healthy School Meals for All Permanent
WASHINGTON, D.C. — March 14, 2023 — With most Washington D.C. schools back to in-person learning and offering breakfast and lunch at no cost to all of their students, participation in school meals grew dramatically during the 2021–2022 school year, greatly surpassing participation prior to pandemic, according to a report released by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) during National School Breakfast Week (March 6–10, 2023).
FRAC’s The Reach of Breakfast and Lunch During the 2021–2022 School Year reveals 55,803 children in the District received breakfast, and 68,070 children received lunch on an average day during the 2021–2022 school year — an increase of over 400% children for both breakfast and lunch compared to the previous year.
Nationwide, FRAC’s report reveals that just over 15.5 million children received a breakfast, and 29.9 million children received a lunch on an average day during the 2021–2022 school year — an increase of 1.6 million children (11.2 percent) for breakfast, and 10.1 million (51.1 percent) for lunch compared to the previous year, and slightly above participation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This sharp increase in participation demonstrates what is possible when meals are provided to all students at no charge and children are back in school,” said LaMonika N. Jones, Interim Director, D.C. Hunger Solutions. Washington D.C. must build on this lesson learned and make healthy school meals for all a permanent reality for all children across the country.”
Momentum for universal free school meals is growing across the District. The D.C. Council recently introduced the Universal Free School Meals Amendment Act, which if passed will provide free school meals and afterschool snacks to all public school, public charter school, and participating private school students in the District of Columbia beginning in academic year 2023–2024. This is a significant step in ensuring that all children in our nation’s capital have access to the healthy and nutritious food they need to grow and flourish.
At the onset of the pandemic, schools shuttered and participation in school meals dropped. Congress gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to issue nationwide child nutrition waivers through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to provide the flexibilities needed during the pandemic to help reduce child hunger by maintaining school meal participation, most importantly the ability to offer free meals to all students. Unfortunately, these waivers are not available this school year.
“If we wish to maintain these high levels of participation and ensure that children in Washington D.C. have the nutrition they need to achieve in school, we need Congress to make additional investments in School Nutrition Programs,” said Jones.
The education and health benefits of participating in school meals are numerous, and more children participate when breakfasts and lunches are available to them at no cost.
Healthy School Meals for All also reduces stigma, ends unpaid school meal debt, and eases financial burdens on schools.
Join D.C. Hunger Solutions in raising your hand for Healthy School Meals for All.
About D.C. Hunger Solutions
D.C. Hunger Solutions, founded in 2002 as an initiative of the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), works to create a hunger-free community and improve the nutrition, health, economic security, and well-being of low-income people in the District of Columbia. To learn more about D.C. Hunger Solutions, visit www.dchunger.org
About Food Research & Action Center
The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.