Hulu Kaopio-Camvel lives on the quiet, outer-Hawaiian island of Molokai, which is only 38 miles long and has a population of 7,000. All groceries come to the island via a barge. Since it’s the only option, residents often feel the shock of food prices, especially with inflation. And during the height of the pandemic and supply chain shortages, the boat sometimes didn’t even make it to shore. “Just to get a gallon of milk was crazy,” she says. What used to cost $8.99 has now surged to $12.99 with inflation. So, for her three school-age kids, the free breakfasts and lunches provided at school were a lifesaver.
The national school breakfast and lunch programs, administered by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and which have stringent income-eligibility criteria, are typically reserved for families at or below 130% of the federal poverty line. But in March 2020, Congress waived those qualification tests to provide families financial relief during the pandemic, and that allowed every child in America to access free breakfast and lunch—an estimated 30 million kids in total. Lawmakers have extended the waiver twice since. But after opposition from Republican lawmakers, members removed a provision from the latest federal budget that would have extended the program through the forthcoming school year. (It wasn’t until June 25, five days before the program was set to expire, that President Biden was able to sign a brief summer extension into law after Congress finally agreed on it.)