Statement attributable to Luis Guardia, President, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)
WASHINGTON, May 7, 2021 — The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) strongly endorses the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 released today by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.). The proposed bill would ensure that all children have access to nutritious meals while they are at school, in summer and afterschool programs, and in child care.
The last year has underscored what anti-hunger advocates already know: There are many students who need a nutritious breakfast and lunch at school who don’t qualify for free or reduced price-school meals, leaving too many children from struggling families missing out. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused alarming spikes in childhood hunger and Black and Latinx households have been hit particularly hard.
Investments in nutrition programs during the pandemic have provided much-needed assistance for families with children. Since March 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided school districts and community partners with the flexibilities and resources needed to continue serving meals to children while schools have been shuttered. These flexibilities will end after the 2021–2022 school year.
However, it will take years for struggling families to recover from this public health and economic crisis. We need to continue building on what we know works in order to fuel children’s health and learning after the next school year.
The Universal School Meals bill would ensure that all children have access to nutritious meals in order to learn and thrive year-round after the pandemic. The bill would
- provide free school breakfast, school lunch, and afterschool supper for all children;
- increase school breakfast and school lunch reimbursements rates to match the recommended rates of the USDA School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study – April 2019;
- end embarrassing practices directed toward students with unpaid school meal fees, and provide funding to schools for all delinquent school meal debt;
- provide a 30-cent reimbursement for schools that procure local foods to support providing healthy, local food options to children;
- provide free summer meals to all children and Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer to all low-income children; and
- provide free meals to all children in child care.
Permanent healthy school meals for all students would be a game changer. The newly proposed bill will help reduce childhood hunger, decrease childhood overweight and obesity, improve child nutrition, enhance child development and school readiness, and advance academic achievement.
FRAC urges Congress to move quickly to pass this bill. Hungry children can’t wait.
The Universal School Meals Program Act is cosponsored in the Senate by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.); and in the House by Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Raúl M. Grijalva (Ariz.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Andre Carson (D-Ind.), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.), and J. Luis Correa (D-Calif.).
The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.