PHOENIX — Free school lunches for some students will expire for the next school year as the child nutrition waivers put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic will end.
The free breakfast and lunch meals will only be provided to children of families who meet income eligibility requirements unless lawmakers take action.
The universal free school meal program was initially introduced in March 2020 when the pandemic began.
Should the programs be left to expire in June, an estimated 10 million children will lose access to free school lunches, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) told ABC News.
The effects reach beyond rumbling bellies, too. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the long-term consequences of hunger include reduced academic achievement, behavioral issues, and chronic illnesses like diabetes already endemic among American children.
The average cost of a school lunch in Maricopa County is $3.06, according to data obtained by ABC15.
A spokesperson with the Arizona Department of Education tells ABC15 that school districts self-report how much lunches are, and are not required to report the information.
However, out of the districts that did share the information, it’s just a little more than $3 a day.
ARIZONA LUNCH PRICES: I wanted to see how much lunch costs at schools these days in Arizona.— Nicole Grigg (@NicoleSGrigg) April 13, 2022
Districts don't have to self report how much lunch is, but the avg. cost for lunch in Maricopa Co. is $3.06
Now imagine you have 2 kids in school... that's just over $30/week pic.twitter.com/SUvLGhborF
The department of education did not have a number of kids that will be impacted by losing free school lunches, but say Arizona will no longer offer free lunches at the beginning of the new school year, unless congressional or legislative action is taken.
Lunches will remain free for the rest of this school year, they add.
Jamie Bussel, senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is one of the many child nutrition advocates asking Congress to pass a bipartisan bill that would extend the nutrition waivers into the next school year.
"It's really encouraging that our members of Congress have come together on a bill that we believe would go a really long way towards ensuring that all children don't go hungry in school and also giving families peace of mind for the next school year," she said. "This crisis is not going away June of this year."
A spokesperson for Superintendent Kathy Hoffman’s office said in an email, “Given Arizona’s $5.3 billion budget surplus, Superintendent Hoffman believes that prioritizing the needs of children and working families should be at the forefront of legislative conversations as next year’s state budget is negotiated.”
The department of education also added that families should know that meals over the summer will still continue and will be free for families.
Some districts, like Phoenix Union and Washington Elementary School District (WESD), tell ABC15 that they will be able to provide free lunches still as they are part of another federal program that will give students free lunches for another year or two.
"WESD will continue to provide free breakfast and lunch next school year through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). We offered free breakfast and lunch to students through the CEP prior to the pandemic," said a WESD spokesperson in an email.
For the 2022-2023 school year, the income guidelines follow the national guidelines for poverty.