Menendez, Booker Push for Support of School Meal Programs Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Menendez, Booker Push for Support of School Meal Programs Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

The senators are also calling for additional support to help schools deliver meals to low-income students

   
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue critical flexibilities that have allowed students to access much-needed meals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. If extended throughout the 2020-2021 school year, children would maintain access regardless of school opening status, and struggling school nutrition programs would benefit from additional financial relief.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools around the country to close their buildings and shift instruction to online and distance-learning models,” the senators wrote to USDA Secretary Sony Perdue. “For many children, school breakfast and lunch may be the only healthy and regular meals they receive.”

“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. School meal program directors must begin procuring food, equipment, and supplies and placing orders now in preparation for the upcoming school year,” the senators continued.

To help ensure school meal program directors and staff have the certainty that they need to begin preparing for the upcoming school year, the Senators are urging the USDA to extend a variety of waivers that will help ensure low-income students can access school-provided meals throughout the upcoming school year.

Additionally, the senators are calling on the USDA to reimburse schools for the transportation costs for delivering meals to low-income students: “While many school meal programs are managing these costs for the time-being, they cannot continue absorbing them for the foreseeable future. We ask that the USDA make additional funds available to schools to assist with the cost of delivering meals to low-income students until regular school operations are restored.”

In addition Sens. Menendez and Booker the letter was also signed by Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey Jr. (D-Penn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), 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.), 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.).

The text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write in support of the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) request that United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) extend a number of school meal program waivers for the entire 2020-2021 school year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools around the country to close their buildings and shift instruction to online and distance-learning models. For many children, school breakfast and lunch may be the only healthy and regular meals they receive. We want to thank USDA for its flexibility granting waivers of school meal program requirements this past school year and this summer. The 2020-2021 school year will likely be marked by similar closures, with many children having to learn from home. 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. School meal program directors must begin procuring food, equipment, and supplies and placing orders now in preparation for the upcoming school year.

We were pleased that USDA extended a number of waivers for school meal program regulatory requirements until the end of the 2020-2021 school year, including the meal pattern requirement, the parent/guardian pickup requirement, the congregate feeding requirement, and the mealtime requirement. However, to help ensure school meal program directors and staff have the certainty they need to begin preparing for the upcoming school year, we urge you to also extend the following waivers nationwide until the end of the 2020-2021 school year:

  • Unexpected School Closures Waiver
  • Afterschool Activity Waiver
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program Parent Pick-Up Waiver
  • Waiver of Child Nutrition Monitoring
  • Waiver of Food Management Company Contract Duration Requirements
  • Waiver of Local School Wellness Assessments
  • Area Eligibility Waiver
  • Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) Waivers

Additionally, it has come to our attention that under the current regulations, the transportation costs for delivering meals to low-income students are not reimbursed by the USDA. While many school meal programs are managing these costs for the time-being, they cannot continue absorbing them for the foreseeable future. We ask that the USDA make additional funds available to schools to assist with the cost of delivering meals to low-income students until regular school operations are restored. 

During such an unprecedented crisis, we must ensure that schoolchildren have enough to eat. 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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Press Contact

Francisco_Pelayo@menendez.senate.gov