RICHMOND, Va. — Families across the Commonwealth may be able to breathe easier knowing they'll be able to feed their children during the summer at no cost.
Congress voted Friday to extend waivers from the Child and Adult Food Care Program, one week before it was set to expire. The "Keep Kids Fed Act" allows providers like schools to serve all children for free, continuing options like meal delivery and grab-and-go.
“In a typical summer, before the pandemic, only 15% of students that relied on school meals were getting a meal during the summer. That number is much higher since these waivers have been in place," said Eddie Oliver, the director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks.
Oliver said food banks in Virginia are reporting a 20% to 30% increase in families in search of food, compared to before the pandemic, citing rising prices at grocery stores and at the gas pump.
“Grocery prices are up at least 10% and for some staples it’s higher than that," Oliver said.
Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine pushed for the summer programs to continue, also citing economic issues as a driving force behind more families needing assistance.
“There’s way too many American children going hungry during the summer, particularly as their parents get slammed by inflation,” Warner said.
In Chesterfield, the county's summer meal program will kick off June 27, with 16 different schools offering free breakfast and lunch to children on a first-come, first-served basis.
However, students can only eat their meals on site with a parent or guardian present.
Oliver said that model could pose some challenges.
“That puts a huge burden on maybe single parent homes where kids have to stay at home during the day while their mother and father works. They can’t leave the house. In rural areas, you’ve got 20 miles or more to travel to get to a summer feeding site," he said.
However, the waivers allow for other options through food banks and childcare programs.
“These waivers allow us to do grab-and-go models and give out multiple meals at a time, so you don’t have that burden of having to travel to a congregate feeding site every day," Oliver said.
The new legislation will allow students at or below 185% of the poverty line to qualify for free or reduced-cost meals for the 2022-2023 school year.
The Federation of Virginia Food Banks offers options on how to find free or reduced-cost meals in Central Virginia. To find out if you qualify for assistance programs, visit the Virginia Department of Social Services.