school meals

USDA launches Summer EBT benefit for school children as ‘SUN Bucks’

The Biden administration launched its package of summer school meals programs, including the new summer EBT benefit, under the name of SUN Programs on Tuesday. SUN Bucks, the EBT program, was expected to help low-income families buy groceries for 21 million school-age children during the summer at a projected cost of $2.5 billion.

For the first time, administration sets limits on added sugars in school meals

Updated nutrition standards for school meals include the first-ever limit on added sugars in foods and beverages, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, calling the move "an important step forward in improving nutrition for our youngsters." The new regulations, which also call for less sodium in meals, were released on Wednesday.

School meals participation declined in 2022-23 school year

The number of students eating meals at school declined in 42 states and the District of Columbia during the first year since the expiration of pandemic-era waivers that allowed all students, regardless of family income, to eat for free. But eight states — all of which continued to serve meals for free to all, or used the Community Eligibility Provision to offer free meals at a significant number of schools — bucked the trend and reported increases in participation, according to a new report from the Food Research & Action Center.

Summer EBT to provide $2.5 billion in grocery assistance

Roughly seven of every 10 school-age children will be included in the new Summer EBT program, which is expected to disburse $2.5 billion in its first year of operation, said the Agriculture Department on Wednesday.

House votes to make whole milk part of school lunches

The House passed, on an overwhelming 330-99 roll call on Wednesday, a bill that overrides USDA regulations to allow schools to serve whole milk as part of the school lunch program. “Let’s end the war on milk,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Senate supports USDA rule against discrimination in school meals

On a vote that largely followed party lines, the Senate on Thursday defeated a Republican attempt to overturn a USDA rule against discrimination in school food programs on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. “This whole exercise is nothing more than a political stunt using children, as I said before, to stoke up their culture wars,” said Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow.

Food insecurity soars 30 percent as pandemic aid ends

More than 44 million Americans experienced food insecurity last year, the highest number since 2014, at the same time that pandemic assistance was reduced, said a USDA report on Wednesday. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and anti-hunger groups called on Congress to protect funding for public nutrition programs, including WIC and SNAP.

Grants will help small and rural schools improve meals

Some 264 school districts across the nation will receive up to $150,000 apiece for projects to improve the nutritional quality of the meals served in small and rural schools, said the USDA on Monday. Nearly $30 million will be distributed through the Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative, said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small.

Vilsack taps USDA fund as House GOP tries to block his access

Declaring it was "an appropriate utilization" of resources, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack allotted nearly $2.7 billion in USDA funds for school meals, food banks, and domestic fertilizer production. House Republicans are trying to block Vilsack's access to the $30 billion account that was the source of the funding.

More schools offer free meals to all students

Four of every five eligible schools in high-poverty areas have adopted the community eligibility provision, which allows them to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students, said the Food Research and Action Center on Wednesday.

USDA proposal would make it easier for schools to offer universal free meals

An additional 20,000 schools in poor neighborhoods would have the option of serving breakfast and lunch for free to all of their students under a proposal by the USDA, a step toward a potential expansion of universal free meals by more than 50 percent. “This is an investment in our youngsters,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday.

Survey: Food insecurity rose in ’22 amid inflation, loss of pandemic supports

High food prices and a rollback of pandemic aids drove a significant increase in food insecurity last year, according to a survey by the Urban Institute that was published Tuesday. Some 24.6 percent of adults surveyed reported experiencing food insecurity in 2022,  up from 20 percent in 2021. (No paywall)

USDA spending falls as White House envisions transformational farm bill

Agriculture Department spending would fall 14 percent in the new fiscal year, due almost entirely to reduced SNAP benefits with the end of the pandemic, said the White House on Thursday. It proposed relatively modest initiatives at the USDA for fiscal 2024, such as offering free school meals to more poor children, while seeing golden potential in the new farm bill for broad-scale change.

SNA says now is not the time to raise school-meal standards

A month after the USDA proposed new rules to make school meals healthier, hundreds of school nutrition directors will come to Washington next week to tell lawmakers to reject the stricter standards. The School Nutrition Association, which represents school food workers nationwide, argues that stricter rules will be difficult for schools to meet, as they still face labor shortages and supply chain disruptions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the avian flu epidemic. (No paywall)

USDA proposes first-ever limit on sugar in school meals

Public schools would face their first-ever limit on sugar in the food they serve in their cafeterias as part of an Agriculture Department proposal for healthier meals. The USDA package called for a staggered phase-in of new standards on sugar, sodium, whole grains and flavored milk, but was criticized as costly and unworkable by school food directors.

Food inflation rate slows for first time in 16 months

U.S. food prices are 11.2 percent higher than a year ago, modestly lower than the inflation rate of the previous month and ending a string of month-over-month increases dating from June 2021, said the government on Thursday.

At White House conference, Biden lays out plan to end hunger by 2030

America can end hunger by 2030 by fighting poverty, expanding access to healthy food, and reorienting healthcare toward preventing diet-related diseases, said President Biden on Wednesday. Framing the task in epic terms, he called on government and society to step up. “This could be a giant step,” he said. “This could remind us who the hell we are.” (No paywall)

Make school lunches free again, say House Democrats

Nearly one of every four Democrats in the House signed a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday, asking for a return to universal free school lunches and breakfasts.

USDA releases $1.9 billion for food banks and school meals

Emergency food providers, such as food banks and school meal programs, will receive an additional $1.9 billion for the purchase of U.S.-grown foods, said the Agriculture Department on Wednesday.

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