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Connecticut students to continue getting free, nutritious meals this summer and upcoming school year

Meals
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public
Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, helps a young man with his meal served by Food and Child Nutrition Services at Samuel Valentin Arroyo Recreation Center in Pope Park on March 16, 2020.

The Keep Kids Fed Act extends the 2020 school meals waiver that allowed students to get free meals regardless of family income and without needing to fill out applications.

The waiver was set to expire Thursday, but the bill that recently was passed will continue to allow schools to provide summer meals for children, going into September.

“For skeptics of the funding, it’s very hard to study on an empty stomach,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), while visiting Weaver High School in Hartford. As he toured the school’s kitchen that provides the meals, Blumenthal said the bill’s new flexibility allows students to get the food they need to learn and to grow.

“It’s hard to absorb anything when you’re really hungry. That’s what a lot of kids would be but for this program,” he said. “The kids deserve high-quality and nutritious food.”

The reimbursement rate will increase by 15 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch for the 2022-23 school year.

“We are grateful for this additional funding; it was very scary for us to wonder what are we going to do next year, and this is really going to help us bridge that gap,” said Yolanda Burt, senior director of Food and Child Nutrition Services at Hartford Public Schools.

Burt said school officials are experiencing the same challenges as the general public, getting sticker shock at grocery stores.

“We will have staff shortages and supply chain issues,” said Burt. “That additional funding will make a difference in continuing our local partnerships, allowing us to keep local produce on menus without having to worry about the quality of food, and we don’t have to decrease that quality by having to make some cuts.”

During the recent school year, 73.5 million meals were served to students across the state. According to the state Department of Education, the food programs in local districts were supported by over $280 million in federal funds. For the 2020-21 school year, 25 million meals were served with $75 million in federal funding.

Blumenthal said that while the new extension will not cover the cost of free lunches beyond the next school year, the bill is expected to return to Congress for review.

Catherine Shen is a Connecticut Public’s education reporter. The Los Angeles native comes to CT Public after a decade of print and digital reporting across the country.
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