CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — In a major hit against programs working to curb childhood hunger during the pandemic, Congress is not extending the waivers that allowed schools to serve free meals to all.

The United States Department of Agriculture Child Nutrition waivers were not included in the bipartisan omnibus package, which passed in the House of Representatives, but still needs to move through the Senate.

The waivers were introduced as a temporary support during the pandemic; however, local school districts and anti-hunger organizations say the need is still here.

“We are actually seeing more people now than we did in the height of COVID,” said Mel Curtis, anti-hunger director for the YMCA of Centre County.

The waivers allow free meals to be distributed to children without needing to verify their families’ income.

“There’s families that live in areas that do not qualify, that are struggling,” said Curtis.

Without the waivers, Curtis said they won’t be able to help a large portion of the community.

“At the end, it comes out where it’s looking like we’re sort of walking away from these kids which we really aren’t,” said Curtis.

State College Area School District Food Services Director Megan Schaper was in Washington this week with the School Nutrition Association in an effort to get funding for the waivers.

Schaper said school nutrition programs are facing unprecedented cost increases, on top of labor, food, and supply shortages.

Those shortages occasionally lead to substituting items in lunches. Without the USDA waiver, schools face financial penalty if they can’t meet the federal nutrition requirement, even if the specific food is not available in the supply chain.

“Here we are, we’re in the 11th hour if you really think about this, because schools out before long,” said Curtis.

Curtis said he expects numbers to be through the roof for their summer lunch programs.

“Kids are going to be expecting to be fed summer meals, and we’re not going to be able to go into those areas and feed those kids,” said Curtis.

The package moves to the Senate on Friday. Curtis said he encourages the community to call their senators if they’d like to see it added back into the bill before it’s final passage.

If all stays as is, the waivers will end on June 30, 2022.