Every politician in office says they are there to build better lives for our children. Congress just showed once again that, for most of its members, that’s a crock.

Given months to help summer school meals programs prepare to feed millions of young Americans, Congress waited until last week to pass an underwhelming bill. As a result, many kids won’t get the supplemental meals they need – and come next school year, most states will be back to a system that hurts vulnerable children and puts stress on school administration.

Fortunately, one of the states won’t be Maine, where lawmakers and Gov. Janet Mills last year agreed on a bipartisan basis to use state funding to give free meals to any student who wants one, regardless of their family’s income level.

Prior to the pandemic, that’s how school meals worked for most students. Based on income levels, students could receive free or reduced-price meals, supported by federal reimbursements, or have to pay full price.

That way of doing things created a stigma around free lunch and put up bureaucratic hurdles that kept some students who qualified from getting meals. The income tests meant that some kids who could use some extra food didn’t qualify.

And for schools, all the extra paperwork required to make sure only eligible students were getting food was a headache, as was constantly chasing parents down for lunch money.


Waivers put in place during the heights of COVID allowed schools to use federal money to give meals to every student. It was done so schools wouldn’t get bogged down in paperwork, and kids would still get fed, even when school buildings were shut down.

Waivers also allowed for more robust summer school meals programs available to every person under 18, along with other areas of flexibility. The last two years, those waivers have meant that kids of all ages have had no problem accessing supplemental food during the summer months. Millions more students were helped.

But now those waivers are running out. Congress has known that for a while, but an extension was removed from the budget passed in March over objections posed by Republicans.

So while school districts across the country were trying to plan their summer meals programs, they had to act as if the waivers were going away. As a result, many kids are expected to be left out, whether because of program capacity or because of the reimbursements in the bill, which are higher than pre-COVID but lower than the last two years.

Things won’t be any better once school starts and most places go back to the old system, asking students to apply for free or reduced-price meals. We know how that will go – some students will go hungry, impacting their schoolwork, health and future prospects.

Maine may dodge the worst of it. Summer meals programs here are well established and valued. They were ready to go, across the state, once summer came.

And, of course, Maine lawmakers put their money where their mouth is, providing free meals to every student who wants one starting this fall.

At least on this issue, when Maine politicians say they care about kids, they actually mean it. Congress, particularly on the Republican side of things, should take note.

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