Reps. Omar, Scott, Fudge, Bonamici, McGovern Introduce Bill to Provide Free School Meals to All Students During COVID-19 Pandemic
WASHINGTON—Today, House Committee on Education and Labor Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) introduced legislation to make all students eligible for free school meals during the 2020-2021 school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act would allow all children to access breakfast, lunch, and afterschool snack programs either in school or through “grab and go” and delivery options. The bill was based on Rep. Omar’s Universal School Meals Act of 2019.
The Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act is co-led by Rep. Marcia Fudge (OH-11), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02), and Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN-05).
According to the Brookings Institute, 35 percent of households with children under 18 already were experiencing food insecurity in April. As the pandemic continues to cause widespread economic hardship, experts fear that the child hunger crisis could become even worse.
School meal programs, which have suffered severe financial losses due to the pandemic, are struggling to maintain services for students. In May, program directors reported a median estimated loss of $200,000 per district, with an estimated loss of as much as $2.35 million in larger districts. By increasing school meal participation rates, the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act would help save these programs from insolvency.
The proposal would also eliminate paperwork for families and school officials, who would not have to fill out and process applications during a time of crisis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated our nation’s child hunger crisis, created record high unemployment, and caused prolonged economic hardship—leaving many families struggling to cover basic essentials,” said Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott. “The Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act would help address the child hunger crisis, make it easier for schools to operate school meal programs, and provide financial relief to school meal programs that have suffered heavy losses during the pandemic. This legislation will ensure that all children will have access to nutrition during this public health emergency.”
“No child in America should face food insecurity,” said Congresswoman Omar. “As a Member of the Education and Labor Committee, I have been proud to lead the push for universal school meals. This year, we passed the MEALS Act to ensure 22 million kids have school meals during the pandemic. But we cannot stop there. I am thrilled to co-lead the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act to ensure every child has access to free school lunches. This legislation will allow us to move one step closer to eliminating child hunger.”
“Nutritious meals help students stay healthy while they learn and grow,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “For many children, school meals provided their primary source of nutrition before the pandemic, and now even more families struggle to put food on their tables because of unemployment and unexpected financial distress. We must provide students with the meals they need to reach their full potential, no matter where they are learning this upcoming school year. I’m glad to be joining Chairman Scott and Representatives Fudge, McGovern, and Omar in introducing this important legislation to prevent child hunger and expand access to meals for more families.”
“We are one of the largest food-producing nations in the world, and yet, children in the United States are still susceptible to experiencing hunger,” said Congresswoman Fudge. “As many school districts move toward distance learning and modified schedules in the fall, we cannot forget about the students who rely on school meals as their only primary source of food and nutrition. I am proud to co-introduce the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act, which will help streamline meal service for schools across the country and allow children to focus on their education, rather than the uncertainty of where they will get their next meal. No child should have to learn on an empty stomach.”
“For months, I have been on the ground talking with principals, superintendents, teachers, and parents across my district who are worried sick about how this pandemic is affecting students,” said Congressman McGovern. “They’re scared because even before this crisis hit, there were kids in our classrooms who came to school hungry and couldn’t focus. My sisters are both public school teachers, and they’ve told me time and again that healthy meals are just as important as text books. As our school districts work to sustain the vital nutrition programs that help prevent child hunger, we’ve written this bill to make sure Congress has their back and that students can continue to access the anti-hunger resources they deserve.”
Under the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act:
- All students will temporarily be made eligible for free school meals during the 2020-2021 school year through the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
- Due to the flexibility granted to USDA under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, free school meals will be available to students during remote learning through “grab and go” or meal delivery.
- All school districts, including those operating off-site services, can serve all children without having to certify the eligibility of each individual child.
- Anywhere in the country, schools and non-profit community partners can operate meal services, including off-site, under the Summer Food Service Programs (SFSP) and the Summer Seamless Option (SSO), where they can serve all children without having to certify the eligibility of each individual child.
- Anywhere in the country, schools and non-profit community partners will be able to serve afterschool meals and snacks, under the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) At-Risk Afterschool Program or the NSLP Afterschool Snack Program, without having to certify the eligibility of each individual child.
- All Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) day care homes will be eligible for reimbursement at the Tier 1 level.
The legislation is cosponsored by Susan A. Davis (CA-53), Lori Trahan (MA-03), Joe Morelle (NY-25), Susan Wild (PA-07), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Alma Adams (NC-12), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), and Raul Grijalva (AZ-03), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), and Tim Ryan (OH-13).
This legislation is endorsed by AASA, The School Superintendents Association; the American Academy of Pediatrics; Food Research and Action Center (FRAC); Feeding America; the National Education Association (NEA); the American Federation of Teachers (AFT); the School Nutrition Association; the American Public Health Association; Center for American Progress; Hunger Free America; UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity; FoodCorps; National Farm to School Network; Bread for the World; American Commodity Distribution Association; National Association of School Nurses; Children’s HealthWatch; Trust for America’s Health; National PTA; United Fresh Produce Association; MomsRising; Urban School Food Alliance; the American Heart Association; MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger; the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; Center for Science in the Public Interest; Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP); the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education and Policy, Teachers College, Columbia University; First Focus Campaign for Children; Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO); Hunger Solutions Minnesota; Project Sweetie Pie; Poligon Education Fund; Pillsbury United Communities; Feeding San Diego; Appetite for Change Vermont Legal Aid, Inc.; The Food Group; Los Angeles Regional Food Bank; Western Center on Law and Poverty; and Social Security Works.
For a fact sheet of the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act, click here.
For the bill text of the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act, click here.