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US Reps. Chellie Pingree, Ilhan Omar and 119 Members of Congress Urge USDA to Extend the School Meal Waivers

121 Members Signed the Letter to Secretary Purdue Calling for Swift Action to Stave off Childhood Hunger in the US Amid the Pandemic

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), and 119 House colleagues wrote to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue to renew waivers for programs which address food insecurity among children. Specifically, the members urged the Department to extend waivers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and to waive the Area Eligibility Requirement during the entirety of school year 2020-2021.  

“Food insecurity is skyrocketing,” said Rep. Pingree. “For many Maine children and families, school meals programs are an essential lifeline. USDA must take immediate action to extend flexibilities for these programs through the next school year to ensure they’re serving every kid who needs them.”

“As this pandemic continues and Maine schools plan ahead for the many complicated reopening scenarios we will see this fall, school nutrition programs need the support and flexibility to feed all children whether they are in person or learning remotely at home,” said Anna Korsen from Full Plates Full Potential.  “Feeding America projects that child hunger will increase by at least 40% in Maine due to so many families facing economic hardship during this public health crisis, making school breakfast and lunch more critical than ever to meet the growing need. “

The Heroes Act, which passed the U.S. House on May 15 , provided emergency funding for child nutrition programs and extended Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits for families with children, in addition to providing a 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

The full text of the letter is available 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 food during these difficult economic times.  Specifically, we urge the Department to renew waivers to enable the implementation of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and to waive the Area Eligibility Requirement during the entirety of school year 2020-2021.  

As you know, Congress authorized the use of these waivers in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.[1]  Schools and non-profit partners across the country have utilized these waivers to continue providing meals to children during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The flexibility to operate SFSP and SSO is essential for schools to continue serving children when school buildings are not accessible, which will continue to be the case in many parts of the country during the coming school year.  These waivers also provide critical administrative relief for already over-burdened school staff and facilitate the implementation of health and safety measures by limiting the contact required during meal service.

Simply put, without these flexibilities, some schools will be unable to continue providing meals for students next year.  

In March and April 2020, approximately one in four adults ages 18-64 with children younger than 19 reported food insecurity in their household during the previous month.[2]  Rates of food insecurity are significantly higher in Black households, with approximately 37 percent of Black households with children reporting food insecurity in March and April 2020 compared to approximately 18 percent of white households.[3]  It is unconscionable that the Department would fail to utilize all of its available authority to ensure that children can continue to receive the nutritious meals they need to learn next year.

We therefore urge your swift action to extend these waivers in the school meal programs. Thank you for your attention this urgent matter, and we look forward to your response.  


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