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Free summer meals available for Oregon children amid changes to federal rules

In this 2020 file photo, Shatoya Mills and Daylen Lawrence work with the summer meals program in Portland's Peninsula Park, where Carie Weisenbach-Folz and her three kids, Cody, Ada, and Linus Folz came for food and activities. The park is again offering meals from noon-1:30 p.m. in the summer of 2022.
Allison Frost/OPB
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In this 2020 file photo, Shatoya Mills and Daylen Lawrence work with the summer meals program in Portland's Peninsula Park, where Carie Weisenbach-Folz and her three kids, Cody, Ada, and Linus Folz came for food and activities. The park is again offering meals from noon-1:30 p.m. in the summer of 2022.

Schools across Oregon are providing free summer meals to anyone 18 and under, but a federal waiver for free meals ends June 30, putting the future of universal free school lunches in jeopardy.

More than 700 sites across Oregon are offering free summer meals to young people 18 and under, including at many schools and parks. According to a summary of Oregon programs, the sites may offer “a combination of breakfast, lunch, snack, or supper.”

You can find summer program meal sites on websites for the Oregon Department of Education or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or by calling 211 or texting “food” or “comida” to 304-304.

But there are changes to the program this summer, with the end of federal waivers that had allowed more flexibility for families.

Sites will continue to provide meals at no charge to people 18 and under, though recipients must be present to get the meal and stay on-site to consume it. Multiple meals cannot be served at once, according to state education officials, and parents are unable to pick up meals for their children.

State officials say the programs have been underutilized due to a lack of awareness.

In addition to the changes to the summer meal program, there will be bigger changes for school meal programs for the upcoming school year.

A federal waiver that has allowed for universal free school meals is set to expire on June 30. While some school districts may continue to offer free school meals to all students regardless of income, others will return to pre-pandemic rules which designated subsidized meals based on family income.

For a household of four, students may qualify for free meals if the household income falls at $36,075 or below. Students in the same household size would qualify for reduced lunch if their income is $51,338 or below.

In Oregon, funding from the state’s Student Success Act allows for an expansion of income eligibility, allowing for free meals for students with household incomes that extend beyond federal poverty guidelines. For a household of four, that means an income of $83,250 or lower.

At the same time, lunch costs for students who aren’t eligible for free meals are likely to increase with rising food costs and continuing supply chain shortages.

At the federal level, President Biden recently signed the Keep Kids Fed Act to retain some of the flexibility for federal waivers related to school meals, but it does not include an extension of free meals for all students.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Elizabeth Miller