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Reps. Omar, Pingree Lead Letter Urging USDA to Extend School Meal Waivers Through the 2020-2021 School Year

Washington, October 9, 2020

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him to extend school meal waivers for the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year. 

“[We] urge the Department of Agriculture (Department) to act swiftly to ensure children have access to nutritious meals through the current school year,” the members wrote. “As you know, the waiver authority provided by Congress and the resulting waivers issued by the Department have proven crucial for schools and non-profit partners to serve nutritious meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools adapting to completely virtual and hybrid plans, food service staff will undoubtedly need to rely on program flexibilities this year.  Without the waivers, there will be lasting effects on the well-being and academic success of students.” 

In March, Congress authorized the use of waivers in the MEALS Act, authored by Rep. Omar, 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. 

On August 31, following multiple requests from Members of Congress, the Department granted an extension of these waivers through the end of the year, but claimed the Department may not have the funding to extend the waivers past December 31, 2020. 

Since then, the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 8337) removed any ambiguity about the funding available to the Department in 2021, but the USDA still has not extended the waivers.

A PDF of the letter can be found here, and the full text of the letter is 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 meals through the current school year. Specifically, we urge the Department to extend waivers enabling the implementation of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and the waiving of the Area Eligibility Requirement for the entirety of 2020-2021 School Year.

As you know, the waiver authority provided by Congress and the resulting waivers issued by the Department have proven crucial for schools and non-profit partners to serve nutritious meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools adapting to completely virtual and hybrid plans, food service staff will undoubtedly need to rely on program flexibilities this year. Without the waivers, there will be lasting effects on the well-being and academic success of students. A U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey found that by mid-July 2020, as many as 17 million children were living in households in which they were not receiving enough to eat. The number of children going hungry across this country will undoubtedly increase if the Department fails to fully utilize its available authority.

On August 31, the Department granted an extension of these waivers through December 31, 2020. While we appreciate this extension and the immediate flexibility it provides, this is only a temporary solution that leaves school officials and food service operators without the necessary flexibilities to serve meals to all students in need throughout the 2020-2021 School Year. Additionally, the Department’s decision to extend the waivers until the end of the year came at the eleventh hour, resulting in unnecessary uncertainty and confusion for food service staff and the families they serve.

On August 31, 2020, you claimed that the Department may not have the funding to extend the waivers past December 31, 2020. We believe that the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 8337) removes any possible ambiguity about the authority or funding available to the Department on this matter, and therefore urge your immediate action to extend these waivers in the school meal programs.

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,

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