Free summer meals available for Oregon kids under federal rule changes

More than 700 locations across Oregon offer free summer meals to children 18 and under, including many schools and parks. According to a summary of Oregon’s programs, sites can offer “a combination of breakfast, lunch, snack, or supper.”

You can find summer program meal locations on the Oregon Department of Education or United States Department of Agriculture websites, or by calling 211 or texting “food”​ ​or “comida” at 304-304.

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

Sites will continue to provide meals free of charge to people 18 and under, although recipients must be present to take the meal and remain on site to consume it. Multiple meals cannot be served at the same time, 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 this 2020 file photo, Shatoya Mills and Daylen Lawrence work with the Summer Meals Program at the Portland Peninsula Park, where Carie Weisenbach-Folz and her three children, Cody, Ada and Linus Folz have come for food and activities. The park is again offering meals from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the summer of 2022.

Allison Frost/OPB

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

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

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

In Oregon, funding from the state’s Student Success Act helps expand income eligibility, allowing free meals for students whose household incomes exceed federal poverty guidelines. For a household of four, this means an income of $83,250 or less.

At the same time, lunch costs for students who are not eligible for free meals are likely to increase with rising food prices and ongoing supply chain shortages.

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

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