Reps. Omar, Pingree Lead Letter Urging USDA to Extend School Meal Waivers Through the 2020-2021 School Year

October 8, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON— Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him to extend school meal waivers for the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year. 

“[We] urge the Department of Agriculture (Department) to act swiftly to ensure children have access to nutritious meals through the current school year,” the members wrote. “As you know, the waiver authority provided by Congress and the resulting waivers issued by the Department have proven crucial for schools and non-profit partners to serve nutritious meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools adapting to completely virtual and hybrid plans, food service staff will undoubtedly need to rely on program flexibilities this year.  Without the waivers, there will be lasting effects on the well-being and academic success of students.” 

In March, Congress authorized the use of waivers in the MEALS Act, authored by Rep. Omar, 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 child hunger. 

On August 31, following multiple requests from Members of Congress, the Department granted an extension of these waivers through the end of the year, but claimed the Department may not have the funding to extend the waivers past December 31, 2020. 

Since then, the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 8337) removed any ambiguity about the funding available to the Department in 2021, but the USDA still has not extended the waivers.

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

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 meals through the current school year. Specifically, we urge the Department to extend waivers enabling the implementation of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and the waiving of the Area Eligibility Requirement for the entirety of 2020-2021 School Year.

As you know, the waiver authority provided by Congress and the resulting waivers issued by the Department have proven crucial for schools and non-profit partners to serve nutritious meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools adapting to completely virtual and hybrid plans, food service staff will undoubtedly need to rely on program flexibilities this year. Without the waivers, there will be lasting effects on the well-being and academic success of students. A U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey found that by mid-July 2020, as many as 17 million children were living in households in which they were not receiving enough to eat. The number of children going hungry across this country will undoubtedly increase if the Department fails to fully utilize its available authority.

On August 31, the Department granted an extension of these waivers through December 31, 2020. While we appreciate this extension and the immediate flexibility it provides, this is only a temporary solution that leaves school officials and food service operators without the necessary flexibilities to serve meals to all students in need throughout the 2020-2021 School Year. Additionally, the Department’s decision to extend the waivers until the end of the year came at the eleventh hour, resulting in unnecessary uncertainty and confusion for food service staff and the families they serve.

On August 31, 2020, you claimed that the Department may not have the funding to extend the waivers past December 31, 2020. We believe that the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 8337) removes any possible ambiguity about the authority or funding available to the Department on this matter, and therefore urge your immediate action to extend these waivers in the school meal programs.

Please contact Maria Martirosyan at Maria.Martirosyan@mail.house.gov with any questions. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter, and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Ilhan Omar

Chellie Pingree

Alma S. Adams, Ph.D.

Joyce     Beatty

Ami Bera, M.D.

Suzanne Bonamici

Brendan F. Boyle

Anthony G. Brown

Cheri Bustos

Salud Carbajal

Tony Cárdenas

Judy Chu

David Cicilline

Steve Cohen

Jim Cooper

Joe Courtney

TJ Cox

Yvette D. Clarke

Danny K. Davis

Susan A. Davis

Mark DeSaulnier

Veronica Escobar

Adriano Espaillat

Dwight Evans

Bill Foster

Lois Frankel

Marcia L. Fudge

Ruben Gallego

John Garamendi

Jesús G. "Chuy" García

Jimmy Gomez

Raúl M. Grijalva

Alcee L. Hastings

Denny   Heck

Pramila Jayapal

Marcy    Kaptur

Joseph P. Kennedy, III

Ro Khanna

Andy Kim

Ron Kind

Ann McLane Kuster

John B. Larson

Barbara Lee

Andy Levin

Ted Lieu

Alan Lowenthal

Carolyn B. Maloney

Doris Matsui

Betty McCollum

James P. McGovern

Grace Meng

Gwen Moore

Joseph D. Morelle

Seth Moulton

Jerrold Nadler

Eleanor Holmes Norton

Tom O’Halleran

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Jimmy Panetta

Ayanna Pressley

David Price

Jamie Raskin

Lucille Roybal-Allard

Bobby Rush

Tim Ryan

Michael F.Q. San Nicolas

Linda T. Sánchez

Mary Gay Scanlon

Jan Schakowsky

Kim Schrier, M.D.

Donna E. Shalala

Adam Smith

Jackie Speier

Thomas R. Suozzi

Bennie G. Thompson

Dina Titus

Rashida Tlaib

David Trone

Juan Vargas

Filemon Vela

Nydia Velázquez

Peter Welch

Susan Wild

John Yarmuth

 

 

 

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