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Stateside Podcast: Debbie Stabenow on the future of universal school meals

Picture of small burger on bun, brussels sprouts, potato wedges, slice of cantaloupe, two ketchup packets, and a box of white milk arranged on a white plate on top of a green table cloth.
DC Central Kitchen / flikr

Federal waivers that have allowed schools to feed all students for free throughout the pandemic will expire this month.

The waivers allowed school meal programs to operate year-round through the U.S. Department of Agriculture summer meals program. All students were eligible regardless of their families income, and the program gave schools about 90 cents extra each meal than what they get under the regular lunch program, according to Education Week.

That program is set to end on June 30.

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and colleagues have introduced a bill that would extend the program through September 2023.

Stabenow says that many students may not be able to eat at all if the school meals plan is not extended.

“Our schools just need some more time to get through this. The idea that somehow COVID’s over and we don’t need to be supporting schools and healthy children is just not right, it’s not accurate,” she said.

Stabenow says the bill would fully fund free lunches for the summer but may reduce the program during the school year.

“We’ve got children, millions, tens of millions of children, who are not going to eat, who are not going to eat healthy meals, maybe not eat at all, if we can’t figure out a different way for them to get their meals when they’re not in school.”

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Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.
Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.