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Maine Delegation Pushes for Expanded Access to Meals for Low-Income Children During COVID-19 Pandemic

Washington, March 22, 2020

On behalf of the more than 82,000 students in Maine who qualify to participate in the National School Lunch Program, Maine’s Congressional Delegation wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging him to immediately use new authorities Congress has granted him to increase low-income students’ access to meals. 

During the regular school year, the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs provide nearly 225,000 meals daily to children across Maine.  With schools across the state transitioning to remote instruction due to COVID-19, however, many low-income students no longer have convenient access to free or reduced-cost meals.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act empowers the Agriculture Secretary to expand eligibility requirements for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO).  This would allow more Maine school districts to operate as open meal sites, which are allowed to provide free meals to any child, no registration required.  Currently, the majority of Maine school districts are not able to participate as an open site because less than 50 percent of the children in their areas meet the income qualifications.

In their letter, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden called on the Agriculture Secretary provide flexibility around the income threshold that is impeding local schools from meeting the nutrition needs of their communities.

“On behalf of the more than 82,000 students in Maine who qualify to participate in the National School Lunch Program, we write to highlight the unique nutrition challenges children face in our State and across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Senators Collins and King and Representatives Pingree and Golden wrote.  “With schools closed, COVID-19 is already placing a tremendous burden on families, school districts, and hunger relief organizations.”

“Removing the low-income area threshold and allowing all sites to operate without administrative burdens would go a long way to helping ensure that no child goes hungry as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” the Maine Delegation continued.  “States and local school districts are working tirelessly to develop innovative plans to best serve their students during this pandemic, such as through ‘grab and go’ meals or delivery along bus routes, and prompt guidance from USDA and the Food and Nutrition Service will best prepare them for success.”

Click HERE to read the signed letter.

 

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