Congress on Tuesday reached a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to extend through the summer and 2022-2023 school year child nutrition waivers that have proven crucial to allow schools to provide meals to students and deal with pandemic-related disruptions.
“With 90% of our schools still facing challenges as they return to normal, this will provide our schools and summer meal programs with much-needed support as they deal with ongoing catering issues,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and chair of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said in a statement. “Congress must act quickly to get this essential aid through.”
Ongoing supply chain disruptions, inflation and rising gasoline prices have produced a maelstrom for school nutrition teams this school year – following a year defined by food-related disruptions. pandemic that forced them to get creative to make sure students were fed, especially in communities with overwhelming food insecurity.
The nutritional derogations, which have been due to expire at the end of June, have provided schools with generous reimbursement rates and enabled them to comply with meal patterns and nutrition standard requirements. School nutrition directors say the waivers have been crucial in allowing school meal programs to work at all given the unpredictable landscape.
A report released last month by the Food Research Action Center shows that among 62 of the nation’s largest school districts, 95% said waivers had helped reduce child hunger in their school district and more than 80% also said that the waivers made it easier for parents, removed the stigma associated with receiving free school meals, made administrative work easier, and supported academic success.
The $3 billion deal was brokered by Stabenow, Republican Senator John Boozman of Arkansas, agriculture committee senior member, Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, chair of the education committee and House Labor and Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx North. Carolina, the prominent member of this committee.
“When I visit our school nutrition professionals, it’s clear that they need continued flexibilities to deal with persistent supply chain issues,” Boozman said in a statement. “I am pleased that after lengthy bipartisan negotiations we were able to reach an agreement to extend the waivers in a fully paid manner.”
The legislation would allow students who qualify for discounted meals to receive free meals, increase federal reimbursements for each school lunch by 40 cents and each school breakfast by 15 cents. It would also extend flexibilities for schools unable to meet certain nutrition standards due to supply chain disruptions, as well as extend current waivers for summer 2022 meal plans.
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“School nutrition professionals have withstood crippling supply chain disruptions, rising prices and labor shortages in their efforts to provide students with healthy meals at a time when families are struggling with higher costs,” says Beth Wallace, president of the School Nutrition Association. “With crucial federal waivers set to expire, this agreement gives school lunch programs a lifeline to help rebuild back to normal operations.”
The agreement follows an intense lobbying effort by school nutrition groups, state chief education officers, district superintendents, principals, school nutrition directors, teachers and community organizations, who have collectively sent tens of thousands of letters over the past two months urging them to extend the waivers, which were first enacted at the start of the pandemic.
The letters describe ongoing struggles to get enough food and supplies for students, with manufacturers abandoning products ranging from low-sodium chicken breasts to low-fat milk and yogurt. School nutrition directors have reported shortages of up to 150-200 menu items per order, forcing understaffed school nutrition teams to scramble for substitutions, as well as price hikes without previous, including a 280% increase in the cost of a case of the types of sanitary gloves kitchen workers use and a 137% increase on whole-grain bread.
“We are grateful that an agreement has been reached to help address the immense challenges faced by schools and community organizations working tirelessly to feed children this summer and throughout the school year,” said Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign. . “This issue couldn’t be more urgent with waivers expiring in nine days and summer meal plans already in place.”
Congress is expected to approve the legislation this week, in time to avoid the waivers expiring on June 30.