Reps. Ilhan Omar, Chellie Pingree, 119 Members of Congress Urge USDA to Extend the School Meal Waivers

August 7, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON— Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and 119 Members of Congress wrote to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him to renew waivers to address food insecurity among children. 

Congress authorized the use of waivers in the MEALS Act and the COVID-19 Child Nutrition Response Act in order to continue to provide school meals for children during the pandemic.  Schools and non-profit partners across the country have utilized these waivers to prevent hunger. Specifically, the members urged the Department to extend waivers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and to waive the Area Eligibility Requirement during the entirety of school year 2020-2021.  

“This spring, we acted boldly and swiftly to provide meals to millions of school children through the MEALS Act,” said Rep. Omar. “As the author of that bill, it is unconscionable that the Trump Administration would not use their full authority to make these meals available. For many children, school meals are the only meal they receive throughout the day. Families are counting on us, now more than ever, to ensure their children can keep receiving school lunches.”

“Food insecurity is skyrocketing” said Rep. Pingree. “For many children and families, school meals programs are providing an essential lifeline. USDA must take immediate action to extend flexibilities for these programs through the next school year to ensure they’re serving every kid who needs them.”

“Expanding access to school meals during this pandemic has been critical to supporting struggling families and preventing child hunger,” said Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03). “The flexibility provided under the existing waivers is just as important today as it was in March, when a bipartisan Congress first authorized the waivers. The Department of Agriculture should use its authority to help address the disturbing rise in child hunger by extending the waivers and allowing schools and non-profit organizations to continue serving children and families during this difficult time. I am grateful to Rep. Omar and all of my colleagues for their important work in expanding access to school meals during this pandemic.” 

“In March and April 2020, approximately one in four adults ages 18-64 with children younger than 19 reported food insecurity in their household during the previous month,” the members wrote. “Rates of food insecurity are significantly higher in Black households, with approximately 37 percent of Black households with children reporting food insecurity in March and April 2020 compared to approximately 18 percent of white households. It is unconscionable that the Department would fail to utilize all of its available authority to ensure that children can continue to receive the nutritious meals they need to learn next year.”

A PDF of the letter can be found here, and the full text of the letter is below.

The Honorable Sonny Perdue 

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

The undersigned members of the House of Representatives urge the Department of Agriculture (Department) to act swiftly to ensure children have access to nutritious food during these difficult economic times.  Specifically, we urge the Department to renew waivers to enable the implementation of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and to waive the Area Eligibility Requirement during the entirety of school year 2020-2021.  

As you know, Congress authorized the use of these waivers in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.[1] Schools and non-profit partners across the country have utilized these waivers to continue providing meals to children during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The flexibility to operate SFSP and SSO is essential for schools to continue serving children when school buildings are not accessible, which will continue to be the case in many parts of the country during the coming school year.  These waivers also provide critical administrative relief for already over-burdened school staff and facilitate the implementation of health and safety measures by limiting the contact required during meal service. Simply put, without these flexibilities, some schools will be unable to continue providing meals for students next year.  

In March and April 2020, approximately one in four adults ages 18-64 with children younger than 19 reported food insecurity in their household during the previous month.[2]  Rates of food insecurity are significantly higher in Black households, with approximately 37 percent of Black households with children reporting food insecurity in March and April 2020 compared to approximately 18 percent of white households.[3]  It is unconscionable that the Department would fail to utilize all of its available authority to ensure that children can continue to receive the nutritious meals they need to learn next year.

We therefore urge your swift action to extend these waivers in the school meal programs. Thank you for your attention this urgent matter, and we look forward to your response.  

###

 

Issues: