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‘Meals should be no different than textbooks;’ Ohio educators call for school lunch program changes

COLUMBUS — Following the end of a federal program last year that helped provide free lunches to Ohio students, state organizations are now pushing lawmakers to create a new program aimed at making school nutrition more accessible.

In June 2022, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) federal program, The Keep Kids Fed Act, ended, and now an Ohio organization and others are calling on lawmakers in Ohio to provide options that would expand access to school meals for all children in the state.

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During the pandemic, President Joe Biden signed the act allowing the USDA to relax some of the rules surrounding school lunches due to supply chain issues, which allowed schools to provide free lunches to all students, no matter their parent’s financial situation. Ohio in 2022, was one of 18 states that experienced the highest supply chain issues, according to USDA data.

“Although the pandemic-era federal programs that ensured every Ohio child could receive free meals at school have ended, there is more than enough money in Ohio right now to ensure no student goes without the meals they need,” said Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro.

After the act ended, schools were forced to go back to pre-pandemic standards of free and reduced lunch policies set forth by the USDA. Hunger-Free Schools Ohio, a group of at least 40 organizations, is working to change the policy in Ohio and provide every student access to food.

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“Every child in Ohio, regardless of where they’re from, what they look like, or how much money their parents make, needs to be able to eat full, nutritionally complete meals at school. Therefore, allowing them to focus on what they’re learning, not on the hunger pangs they’re feeling,” said DiMauro.

According to Hunger-Free Schools Ohio, schools in all 88 counties in the state experience one in five students that do not have access to food. Students who lack this access are likelier to have lower grades, less focused in the classroom, and have less energy.

“School meals should be no different than textbooks or transportation services provided to all public school students. We know they are a basic need for children to learn in school. It is imperative that our lawmakers use money that’s available now to ensure that all Ohio students have access to healthy school meals,” said DiMauro

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