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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
About one in 10 American households was food insecure at some point in 2021, according to USDA data released on Wednesday — a slight, but not significant, decline from 2020 and 2019, when the rate was 10.5 percent. Food security among families with children improved in 2021, with 12.5 percent of households with kids food insecure, down from 14.8 percent in 2020.
When the government made school meals temporarily free to virtually all public school students in 2020, the intent was to buffer children and families from the spike in hunger and economic hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It also inadvertently turned out to be a pilot project for something anti-hunger groups had been pushing for years: making school food free, permanently, for all public school students, regardless of income. (No paywall)
With the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health weeks away, a broad group of advocates, academics and experts on Tuesday called for "radical systemic changes" in order to address food insecurity, diet-related disease and health inequities.(No paywall)
The great majority of public schools serve breakfasts and lunches that contain higher amounts of added sugar than recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, said a USDA report to Congress. “The main source of added sugars ... was flavored fat-free milk,” it said.