Harder Pushes USDA to Extend School Meal Programs During Coronavirus Pandemic
WASHINGTON – In response to concerns from school districts across the Central Valley, Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) has written a letter asking the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow school districts to continue their nutrition programs through the end of the school year regardless of in-person opening status. The USDA recently extended the child nutrition waivers through the end of 2020, but many districts are concerned the programs will end at that time, leaving thousands of students in the Central Valley without a guaranteed source of nutrition during a global pandemic. These programs rely on federal funding to continue their operations. Approximately 63 percent of students in Rep. Harder’s district rely on school lunch programs for nutrition. USDA recently extended their summer meals programs through the end of 2020.
“Secretary Perdue made the right call in extending the waivers through the end of 2020 – but a lot of our local districts would appreciate some certainty – we’d like him to extend the programs through the end of the school year,” said Rep. Harder. “School’s budgets are already in a tight spot and the last thing they need is more chaos in their federal funding.”
In light of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Congress gave USDA the authority to extend their summer food programs and allow any child to receive a free meal without an application process regardless if the student is enrolled to attend school at that location.
Representative Harder is a leader in efforts to protect and expand school nutrition programs – especially during the Coronavirus Pandemic. In April, he joined Republican Jeff Van Drew to introduce the Fresh Produce for Kids in Need Act, which would help farmers get more fresh produce to kids in need during the pandemic. Last year, Rep. Harder worked with fellow Californian Jimmy Gomez to introduce the EATS Act, which would help combat hunger on college campuses. He has also been critical of Trump Administration attempts to cut-off access to nutrition programs
The text of the letter is below and an original version is available here.
Dear Secretary Perdue,
I write today to thank you for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recent change to extend all school meal waivers through December 2020 and to urge you to take an additional step and extend those school meal flexibilities for the full 2020-2021 school year, using the authority granted under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
I have heard from countless education leaders in my district about the critical need for students to continue having access to these school meals. Providing these waivers has helped our schools with the implementation of numerous summer programs including the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and will continue to help throughout the school year and assist many of our schools with low-income students. These, and other meal program flexibilities, will allow meals to be served in all areas and ensure that children can continue to access meals under all circumstances.
Reports show that about eleven to twenty percent of adults with children reported that their children sometimes or often did not eat enough in the last seven days because they could not afford it. This means that as many as seventeen million children are not eating enough due to household affordability issues. If these meal waivers are not extended for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year, this concerning trend will continue and possibly grow.
It is my hope that you will take the next crucial step in keeping our students fed during the entire school year. I look forward to working with you and USDA to ensure that how children get their meals during the school year is not among the many other uncertainties they experience during the pandemic.