The Biden administration said it would provide an additional $943 million in USDA funds to schools so they can purchase American-grown food for their meal programs.
Before leaving Washington for summit meetings in Europe, President Biden signed into law a $3-billion extension of school nutrition waivers. Proponents said the extension would prevent "a summer hunger crisis" and called for Congress to expand the school food program, rather than limit access.
Congress would give schools an additional $3 billion to help them run meal programs this summer and during the next school year under an agreement announced by key lawmakers on Tuesday. The agreement would scale back the number of children who receive meals for free — at present, all of them do — and set reimbursement rates for meals at higher rates so schools can cope with rising food prices.
Summer is always the hungry season for America’s children — when school is not in session, many students don’t get enough to eat. But anti-hunger groups are warning this summer could be worse than usual, since many schools have been forced to scale back or eliminate their summer meals programs because the waivers that vastly expanded access to school food during the pandemic are set to expire on June 30, unless Congress takes action.(No paywall)
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 two months since the Biden administration announced the most ambitious summer food program in U.S. history, the USDA has approved benefits distribution plans for just 18 states — even with school out of session across the country.
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 announced plans to launch the most significant summer food program in U.S. history, expanding a pandemic-era benefit to feed more than 30 million children over the summer break. Now, anti-hunger advocates are hoping to leverage the expansion into a permanent summer benefits program, a longstanding goal that would fill a gap in food access when school is out.(No paywall)
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)
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)
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told school food directors on Monday the government will help them continue feeding children if schools are closed due to Covid-19. “If schools are closed, we are going to do our very best to see you all have the tools you need to keep the kids fed,” he said at a School Nutrition Association conference.
Nearly three-fourths of meals served in school lunch programs — 22 million on an average school day — are eaten by poor children. But when the school year ends, only about one in seven of those children gets a meal through the USDA’s summer nutrition programs.
Some 3 million school-age children participated in USDA's summer nutrition program in 2016, down 5 percent from the previous year and the first decline after four years of significant growth, said the antihunger Food Research and Action Center. The program, which provides a daily meal, reaches a much smaller group of low-income children than the school lunch program, about one in seven.
Fewer than one of six eligible children takes part in the summer food program, a participation rate that plateaued in 2015 after three years of steady growth, says the Food Research and Action Center in a report released today. The anti-hunger group said Congress should expand the program as part of the pending update of child-nutrition programs costing $23 billion a year, headlined by school lunch.