Current COVID-19 Supply Chain Disruptions Underscore the Need for Extended Flexibilities to Provide Nutritious School Meals to Students
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-01), and John Katko (R-NY-24) are leading the introduction of bipartisan legislation that would give schools in Virginia and across the country the flexibility and support they need to feed students as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact schools, families, and communities.
The Keeping School Meals Flexible Act would extend the expiration date for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) authority to establish, grant, or extend child nutrition waivers through the upcoming school year, ending on June 30, 2023. All 12 waivers currently in place and USDA’s waiver authority are set to expire on June 30, 2022.
“When Congress last voted nearly six months ago to extend the Child Nutrition waver deadline, it was a widely-held belief that the pandemic would be behind us by the end of this school year. That is clearly not the case,” said Spanberger. “Since the start of the pandemic, school meals have been a reliable and vital source of nutritious meals for students of all ages across our Virginia communities. But supply chain disruptions have left schools scrambling to substitute menu items, find new vendors when orders are shorted or delayed, and make trips to the grocery store to buy food for their students. In the early days of the pandemic, we voted overwhelmingly to establish these waivers because we understood them to be essential in making sure no child goes hungry — and that has not changed. I am proud to lead this bipartisan legislation because our schools and our students need continued flexibilities as they adapt to unforeseen challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Spanberger has worked to address food security issues in Virginia. In March 2020, Spanberger voted with an overwhelming majority of the U.S. House to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which originally gave the United States Secretary of Agriculture authority to establish, grant, or extend child nutrition wavers. The Congresswoman also helped introduce the Operation Feed Our Kids Act, which passed the House as part of a bipartisan funding deal in September 2020 and extended USDA’s child nutrition waiver authority.
The bipartisan legislation is endorsed by the Virginia School Nutrition Association, Federation of Virginia Food Banks, American Academy Of Pediatrics, School Nutrition Association, National Education Association, Bipartisan Policy Center, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), Afterschool Alliance, The School Superintendents Association (AASA), Save the Children, Feeding America, Feed More, and Share Our Strength.
“The School Nutrition Association of Virginia is pleased to support Rep. Spanberger’s bipartisan bill to give the USDA Secretary authority to establish, grant, or extend child nutrition waivers under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act through the upcoming 2022-2023 school year,” said Andrea Early, President, Virginia School Nutrition Association. “Current USDA waivers have given school districts across Virginia the flexibility needed to continue to provide healthy meals to students, while navigating supply chain issues, school closures, and more. Extending or establishing additional waivers for the 2022-2023 school year will provide an important safety net to schools as operations gradually return to normal.”
“Child nutrition waivers are crucial for school meal programs as they manage persistent supply chain disruptions and continuously adapt meal services to provide students safe access to healthy meals throughout the pandemic,” said Beth Wallace, MBA, SNS, School Nutrition Association President. “School nutrition directors are already writing bids and placing orders for School Year 2022/2023 menus and urgently need these waiver extensions to ensure students’ nutritional needs are met this fall.”
“I fully support this legislation to give the USDA Secretary the authority to establish, grant, or extend child nutrition waivers under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act through the upcoming 2022-2023 school year,” said Dr. Mervin B. Daugherty, Chesterfield County Superintendent. “Families throughout our region, the state and around the country struggle with daily food options for students. This opportunity to provide meals at breakfast and lunch time are necessary for students to be successful in school and stay healthy. This bill would benefit children, families and school staff as we continue to help students grow and meet the essential needs.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sustained rise in the number of Virginia families struggling with food insecurity,” said Eddie Oliver, Executive Director, Federation of Virginia Food Banks. “We applaud Rep. Spanberger’s efforts to provide schools with the flexibility they need to ensure all students have access quality nutrition in and out of the classroom.”
“Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to present evolving challenges that make it difficult to ensure children consistently get the nutrition they so desperately need. That’s why we’ve advocated for child nutrition waiver flexibilities to be extended, so that these federal nutrition programs can continue to serve kids, despite prolonged school closures, supply chain shortages and other pandemic-related challenges,” said Cassidy Pont, Manager of Domestic Child Nutrition Policy, Save the Children. “Every day we hear from program staff about how vital these waivers are to ensure kids get the nutrition they need. So, we’re thrilled to support this important, bipartisan legislation which further extends the USDA’s authority to continue these critical waivers for another school year. These continued flexibilities are crucial to the lives of countless kids across the country.”
“When the USDA is authorized to grant child nutrition waivers, it allows them to help schools respond to pandemic-related challenges in real-time,” said Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. “The sooner the USDA is authorized to extend these essential waivers, the sooner schools and meal providers can have the stability they need to plan for summer and next school year. These critical waivers enable them to continue safely and effectively feeding kids while managing through current challenges and preparing to transition to normal operations when those challenges subside.”
Click here to read the full bill text.