Senators Urge USDA to Extend School Meal Waivers for Low-Income Students

August 3, 2020 by Reece Nations
Former First Lady Michelle Obama with students in Virginia sampling healthy meals being introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture. (White House photo)

WASHINGTON – Thirty-four members of the U.S. Senate have signed a letter to Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting an extension of various waivers that allow low-income students access through the upcoming school year to school-provided meals.

One-in-seven children lived in a food insecure household in 2018, according to Feeding America. However, pandemic-related rises in unemployment and child poverty could alter this statistic to as many as one-in-four children, or roughly 18 million.

“The economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in millions of parents losing their jobs, and millions more students will be dependent on school-provided meals,” the text of the letter read. “School meal program directors must begin procuring food, equipment, and supplies and placing orders now in preparation for the upcoming school year.”

If unemployment and child poverty rates increase by 7.6 percentage points and five percentage points, respectively, projections indicate child food insecurity would be at an all-time high since first being tracked in 1996. Food insecure individuals are statistically more likely to have poorer health and diet-related medical conditions, according to a study published by the Journal of Nutrition.

Some of the waivers mentioned in the Senators’ letter include Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program Parent Pick-Up Waiver, Waiver of Food Management Company Contract Duration Requirements and the Unexpected School Closures Waiver. The Senators also urged the USDA to make additional funds available to schools to assist with the cost of delivering meals until normal day-to-day operations at schools are restored.

Fifty-six percent of households suffering from food insecurity engage with at least one of the major federal food assistance programs. These programs include SNAP, the National School Lunch Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

The members who signed off on the letter are: Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del.; Chris Coons, D-Del.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Bob Casey, D-Pa.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Kirsten Gillibrand D-N.Y.; Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.; Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii; Doug Jones, D-Ala.; Angus King, I-Maine; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Joe Manchin, D-W. Va.; Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Bob Menendez D-N.J.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; Gary Peters, D-Mich.; Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.; Tina Smith, D-Minn.; Tom Udall, D-N.M.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

“During such an unprecedented crisis, we must ensure that schoolchildren have enough to eat,” the letter continued. “We thank USDA for all its work so far that helped keep children fed, and we ask that you continue doing everything you can to do the same for the upcoming school year.” 

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