DENVER — The Healthy School Meals for All Coalition held a virtual news conference Wednesday afternoon to publicly pressure Congress to extend federal waivers that help school districts provide free meals for all students, regardless of a family’s income level.
The federal waivers are set to end on June 30.
“We have heard from some districts and they're serving 40 percent or more students this year,” said Ashley Wheeland, director of public policy of Hunger Free Colorado.
Wheeland says the end of the waivers will have negative impacts on schools' nutrition departments.
“Not only will they be without funds to feed many kids who have been counting on the meals this year, but they are facing inflation of food prices at nearly 9 percent and dealing with staffing shortages. It is time for our Congress to act,” Wheeland said.
During the news conference, several leaders of the coalition said Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are both in favor of extending the vouchers and they’re hopeful that Congress will ultimately grant the extension.
“If there was one single positive outcome over the past two years from living through a global pandemic, it would be that we provided all children the right opportunity to be provided a healthy meal at school, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, religion,” said Matthew Poling, director of food and nutrition services for Durango 9R.
Local nonprofits are also preparing for the waivers to end.
“We've been having a lot of people come through here, and it's nonstop, man,” said Brian Brooks, Struggle of Love Food Pantry assistant manager. “We have a cut-off time to pickup meals at 2:00 p.m. But it’s been so busy that we've been cutting off the line early because we’re running out of food.”
Brooks says with the federal waivers ending in 280 days and the need for food help growing, Struggle of Love is helping more families with fewer resources.
“We're helping a lot of people, so if the government can keep providing help, together we can help more people,” Brooks said.