America’s school lunch crisis

A federal program allowed schools to provide free lunch to all children. Why did it have to end?

In 2020, when schools across the country closed to slow the spread of Covid-19, federal lawmakers did something unprecedented: They decided to pay for free lunch for every public school student in America, every day, no questions asked. Millions of children rely on free or reduced price meals at school, and policymakers knew that need would only grow as families faced a devastating pandemic.

The effect of the free meals was dramatic. Parents, many of them facing layoffs, illness, and grief, no longer had to worry about the cost of lunch for their kids — which, at about $2.50 a meal, was a $50 monthly expense per child that stretched many families even in normal times. Instead, they could pick up a free, nutritious meal at their children’s school, or in some cases even have it delivered by school bus.

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