Federal waivers that allowed schools to hand out "grab and go" meals to students, and that made meals free to all students, were powerful tools in blunting the impact of the pandemic on food insecurity among children, said USDA economists. Although the number of school meals declined 17 percent in fiscal 2020, because of the waivers 1.7 billion meals were served from March-May 2020 "that may have otherwise not been distributed," they said in a Covid-19 working paper.
More than three dozen Democrats in the House and Senate proposed a dramatic expansion of U.S. spending on school meals to provide free meals for all students, not just low-income children. "What we've seen during this pandemic is that a universal approach to school meals works," said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a lead sponsor. "We cannot go backwards."
The Agriculture Department on Tuesday extended waivers to help school meal programs and childcare institutions provide kids with healthy food, as schools eye a return to in-person learning by fall 2021. Critically, the Department announced that these measures on meal services will remain in place through June 30, 2022.
School nutrition standards haven’t been updated since 2010, when the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act — former First Lady Michelle Obama’s overhaul of school nutrition standards that mandated more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and reduced sodium — was passed. As Congress moves forward with a long-overdue Child Nutrition Reauthorization, lawmakers and advocates are sparring over what changes, if any, should be made to the food kids eat at school.(No paywall)
Student participation in school meal programs dropped 30 percent in the first nine months of the pandemic, according to new USDA data, leaving kids without meals amid acute rates of food insecurity and draining the programs of critical revenue.
The USDA said Tuesday that it will extend a series of waivers to school meal programs through Sept. 30, as the pandemic hits its one-year mark and ongoing school closures continue to exacerbate food insecurity among low-income children. (No paywall)
Two days after taking office, President Biden directed the USDA to boost benefits by 15 percent in the P-EBT program for school-age children in low-income families, and to include children under the age of 6 in P-EBT. The expansion would aid millions of children, but only eight states are approved for P-EBT for this school year, which started months ago.
Even before the pandemic, Denise Santos was struggling to get food to in-need families in Puerto Rico. As president of the Banco de Alimentos de Puerto Rico, the island’s largest food bank, she had spent the years that followed Hurricanes Irma and Maria—which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017—working to fight hunger. Then, in January, a massive earthquake hit, unleashing thousands of smaller temblors that left thousands of families homeless, and destroyed infrastructure. Two months later, the pandemic struck. (No paywall)
Like school nutrition staff across the country, Marsha Wartick, food service director for the Ronan School District in tiny Ronan, Montana, spent the last six months feeding hungry kids and their families under a USDA emergency meals program. Now, as kids head back to school, Wartick is scrambling to react to mixed signals from the administration and hoping the emergency program is allowed to continue through the entire school year. (No paywall)