Reps. Omar, Pingree Lead Letter Urging USDA to Reverse Decision to End School Meal Waivers

August 28, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON— Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) wrote a letter in response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue’s claim that extending school meal waivers would go beyond the scope of the USDA’s authority. The members previously wrote a letter to Secretary Perdue earlier this month to ask for an extension of school meal waivers.

In March, 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 child hunger. Specifically, the members urged the Department to renew waivers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and to waive the Area Eligibility Requirement during the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year.  

The school meal waivers expire on August 31, 2020 and will make it more difficult for school meal programs to continue to operate this fall. The existing flexibility for simplified pick-up for parents and guardians will also end.

“We are writing to express our disapproval of your decision not to extend all school meal waivers through the 2020-2021 school year,” the members wrote. “We urge you to immediately reverse your decision and extend all of the waivers using your authority under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). At a moment when as many as 17 million children did not get enough to eat this summer, this decision is not only based in an incorrect understanding of the law, but it is also irresponsible and cruel.

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

The Honorable Sonny Perdue Secretary
U.S. Department of Agriculture 1400 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

August 28, 2020

We are writing to express our disapproval of your decision not to extend all school meal waivers through the 2020-2021 school year. We urge you to immediately reverse your decision and extend all of the waivers using your authority under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). At a moment when as many as 17 million children did not get enough to eat this summer, this decision is not only based in an incorrect understanding of the law, but it is also irresponsible and cruel.

You wrote in your letter to us dated August 21, 2020 that extending these waivers would go beyond the scope of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (Department) authority.3 This is not correct. Congress provided the Department clear authority to issue all of these waivers under FFCRA.4 The Department has already used its authority under FFCRA to extend other school meal waivers for the duration of the 2020-2021 school year, including the non-congregate meal service waiver, the meal pattern waiver, and the parent/guardian pickup waiver.5 These actions indicate that the Department agrees that these authorities under FFCRA can be applied during the 2019-2020 school year as long as the waiver is issued prior to the sunset date of September 30, 2020 prescribed in section 2202(e).6

In your August 21, 2020, letter you also expressed concern about whether the Department has budgetary authority to extend waivers. However, section 2102 of FFCRA, the Maintaining Essential Access to Lunch for Students (MEALS) Act introduced by Rep. Omar, explicitly provides the Department with the authority to issue waivers that increase costs to the federal government, and the authority under this section does not sunset. The Department already cited budgetary authority from this section of FFCRA in its existing area eligibility waiver.

As we discussed in our letter to you on August 7, 2020, your decision not to extend these waivers will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for school meal programs to continue to operate this fall, and for families to access nutritious meals for their children. Further, neglecting to extend these waivers will exacerbate the already perilous financial situation school meal programs are facing.

We therefore urge you to immediately reverse your decision to not extend all school meal waivers.

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

Earl Blumenauer

Cheri Bustos

Tony Cárdenas

David N. Cicilline

Yvette D. Clarke

Steve Cohen

Jim Costa  

TJ Cox

Cindy Axne

Julia Brownley

Salud Carbajal

Judy Chu

Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr.

Emanuel Cleaver, II

Jim Cooper

Joe Courtney

Angie Craig

Henry Cuellar

Danny K. Davis

Mark DeSaulnier

Veronica Escobar

Adriano Espaillat

Ruben Gallego

Jesús G. "Chuy" García

Jimmy Gomez

Alcee L. Hastings

Denny Heck

Jared Huffman  

Eddie Bernice Johnson

Joseph P. Kennedy, III

Derek Kilmer

Ron Kind

Rick Larsen

Barbara Lee

Susan A. Davis

Peter A. DeFazio

Debbie Dingell

Anna Eshoo

Marcia L. Fudge

John Garamendi

Sylvia R. Garcia

Josh Harder

Jahana Hayes

Steven Horsford

Pramila Jayapal

Marcy Kaptur

William Richard Keating

Ro Khanna

Andy Kim

Ann McLane Kuster

John B. Larson

Susie Lee

Andy Levin

Zoe Lofgren

Stephen F. Lynch

Sean Patrick Maloney

Betty McCollum

Jerry McNerney

Joseph D. Morelle

Jerrold Nadler

Eleanor Holmes Norton

Jimmy Panetta

Mark Pocan

David Price

Harley Rouda

Bobby Rush

Linda T. Sánchez

Jan Schakowsky

Robert C. “Bobby” Scott

Ted Lieu

Alan Lowenthal

Carolyn B. Maloney

Doris Matsui

James P. McGovern

Gwen Moore

Seth Moulton

Grace F. Napolitano

Frank Pallone, Jr.

Ed Perlmutter

Ayanna Pressley

Jamie Raskin

Lucille Roybal-Allard

Tim Ryan

Mary Gay Scanlon

Kim Schrier, M.D.

Donna E. Shalala

Adam Smith

Jackie Speier

Mike Thompson

Dina Titus

Paul Tonko

Lori Trahan

Juan Vargas

Bonnie Watson Coleman

Jennifer Wexton

Frederica Wilson

Darren Soto

Abigail D. Spanberger

Mark Takano

Bennie Thompson

Rashida Tlaib

Norma J. Torres

David Trone

Filemon Vela

Nydia Velázquez

Peter Welch

Susan Wild

John Yarmuth

 

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