Statement attributable to Luis Guardia, President, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)
WASHINGTON, March 7, 2022 — Congress must provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the authority to continue child nutrition waivers through the 2022-2023 school year in the appropriations package currently being negotiated and expected to pass this week.
These waivers have been critical in supporting school nutrition operations so that children have access to school and summer meals throughout the pandemic, and they are still needed as schools and families recover from and respond to the economic, health, and educational fallout from the pandemic.
A report released today by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service underscores the negative impact of supply chain disruptions and staffing challenges on school nutrition programs during the 2021-2022 school year. The report also found that nearly 90 percent of school districts used the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) waiver to serve meals for school year 2021-2022, which allows schools to offer all students meals at no charge and provides higher reimbursement rates which have been needed to support nutrition finances during the pandemic.
The latest findings from USDA echo FRAC’s The Reach of Breakfast and Lunch: A Look at Pandemic and Pre-Pandemic Participation report, which found a 32.4 percent decrease in lunch participation in the school year 2020-2021 from the 2018-2020 school year — the last full school year prior to the pandemic. Student participation in school breakfast and lunch dropped dramatically across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, but things would be far worse if not for child nutrition waivers.
FRAC and over 2,000 national, state, and local organizations from every state across the country, and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, are urging Congress to immediately extend USDA authority to issue nationwide child nutrition waivers in the upcoming appropriations package.
Hungry children can’t wait.
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.