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Pandemic meal waivers extended, but free meals are over for many

'These benefits needed to be extended so these kids are taken care of,' said teacher and parent Linda Senn.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Pandemic-era school meal waivers that have helped millions of children get access to meals in schools have been extended just days before they were set to expire.

“These benefits needed to be extended so these kids are taken care of," said teacher and parent Linda Senn. Senn has seen firsthand how important a full stomach is for students learning. 

"We see kids that really wake up so to speak after they’ve had a good breakfast. Other kids we’ve seen em come to school without anything to eat and they’re a little bit sluggish," said Senn. 

However, the bill titled "the Keep Kids Fed Act" does not extend free school breakfasts and lunches to all students regardless of their family's income. Instead, families would have to apply to qualify for free or reduced meals. 

RELATED: Orangeburg food pantry in high demand this summer

"One in seven children face hunger in South Carolina. So if they're not eating at school, they're not eating, and that's just the reality of it," said Harvest Hope Food Bank CEO Erinn Rowe. 

Rowe said a free meal goes a long way for families as inflation keeps climbing. 

"Summer is always a really hard time for families because you have additional costs, your electricity bill goes up, you now have to pay for childcare, because your child is out of school," said Rowe. 

School districts are also feeling the strain of rising food, gas, and labor costs. The legislation would continue to give districts extra money to compensate for higher food and labor costs, but not as much as they had been getting. 

"The school districts are really struggling to find a balance of what do we charge a child for food?" said Rowe. 

Districts enrolled in the USDA's Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) will continue to receive free meals for all students. 

Those school districts include Richland One, Sumter school district, Orangeburg School District, Lexington Four, and Lexington-Richland Five. 

According to the School Nutrition Association, more than 98% of school meal programs reported shortages of menu items, supplies, and packaging. 

RELATED: Free breakfast and lunch for Lexington Two kids this summer

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