Congress reached a bipartisan and bicameral agreement on Tuesday to extend exemptions from infant feeding for the summer and next school year 2022-23 that proved crucial in enabling schools to provide meals to students and address disruptions related to the pandemic. .
“With 90% of our schools still facing challenges as they return to normal operations, this will provide our schools and summer meal programs with much needed support to address ongoing food service problems,” Senator Debbie Stabenow , a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Lo, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry said in a statement. “Congress must act quickly to approve this vital aid.”
Continued supply chain disruptions, inflation and rising gas prices have produced a whirlwind for school nutrition teams this school year, in the wake of a year of pandemic-related disruptions that required them to be creative to ensure students are fed, especially in communities with overwhelming food insecurity.
The nutrition waivers, which were it will expire at the end of June, provided schools with generous reimbursement rates and allowed them the flexibility to comply with dietary patterns and nutritional standard requirements. School nutrition directors say waivers have been crucial in allowing school meal plans to work, given the unpredictable landscape.
A report published last month by the Food Research Action Center shows that among the 62 of the largest school districts in the country, 95% reported waivers helped reduce the hunger of children in their school district, and more than 80% also have said waivers made it easier for parents, eliminated the stigma associated with receiving free school meals, easing administrative work, and supporting school performance.
The $ 3 billion deal was reached by Stabenow, Republican Senator John Boozman of Arkansas, the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, Democratic Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, chair of the Education Commission and the House work, and Republican Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the ranking member of that committee.
“As I visit our school nutrition professionals, it is quite clear that they need continued flexibility to address ongoing supply chain problems,” Boozman said in a statement. “I am delighted that, after long bipartisan negotiations, we have managed to reach an agreement to extend the waivers in a fully paid way.”
The legislation would allow students who are eligible for discounted meals to receive free meals, increase federal reimbursements for each school canteen by 40 cents and each school breakfast by 15 cents. It would also extend flexibility for schools that are unable to meet certain nutritional standards due to supply chain disruptions, as well as extend the current waivers for 2022 summer meal plans.
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“School nutrition professionals have resisted crippling supply chain disruptions, rising prices and labor shortages in their efforts to provide healthy meals for students, at a time when families are struggling with higher costs.” says Beth Wallace, president of the School Nutrition Association. “With crucial federal waivers on the brink of deadline, this deal offers school meal plans a lifeline to help rebuild normal operations.”
The deal comes in the wake of an intense lobbying effort by school nutrition groups, state heads of education, district superintendents, principals, school nutrition directors, teachers and community organizations, who collectively sent tens of thousands of letters. over the past two months urging them to extend the waivers, which were first enacted at the start of the pandemic.
The letters describe ongoing struggles to get enough food and supplies for the students, with manufacturers discontinuing products ranging from low-sodium chicken breasts to low-fat milk and yogurt. School nutrition directors have reported shortages of 150 to 200 menu items per order, sending understaffed school nutrition teams to fight for replacements, as well as unprecedented price increases, including a 280% increase in the cost of a case of the types of hygienic gloves used by kitchen workers and a 137% increase on wholemeal bread.
“We are grateful that an agreement has been reached to help address the immense challenges that schools and community organizations face, working tirelessly to feed children this summer and throughout the school year,” said Lisa Davis, senior vice president of the Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. “This problem couldn’t be more urgent with waivers expiring in nine days and summer meal plans already in place.”
Congress is expected to pass the legislation this week, in time to avoid the June 30 waiver deadline.