WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, introduced an amendment to extend child nutrition waiver authority in the omnibus. She delivered the following remarks:
Across America, our schools are open, and our children are back in the classroom. And that’s great news for everyone. Unfortunately, providing our children healthy food has been a real challenge for schools thanks to supply-chain challenges that are still happening in many places.
That’s why during the pandemic, Congress made sure schools and meal providers had flexibility to continue to feed hungry kids. Ninety percent of schools – from rural Alaska to downtown Louisville – are still relying on these flexibilities to keep their students fed.
Extending these bipartisan tools in the omnibus package is essential to helping schools ease back into regular operations.
Nutrition operations at schools are working as hard as they can to get back to normal – but it takes time. The waivers help. When basic staples like chicken and whole grains cost double, waivers help schools in Caribou, Maine keep feeding kids. When the supply chain limits available food options, like ground beef or fruit, schools in Bismarck, North Dakota, can use substitutions to put together healthy lunches.
And hunger doesn’t go away just because school is out. Thanks to these waivers, communities – from Michigan to Kentucky to Utah – were able to feed more kids over the summer, particularly in rural areas. Last July, an average of nearly 7.6 million children received a meal each day through the summer program – double the number who could access summer meals in 2019. And that’s a good thing!
If schools or meal providers are unable to serve meals because of ongoing challenges, that hurts all of our children. Over 2,000 groups – from School Nutrition Association to Feeding America to local school boards, superintendents, and administrators – have called on Congress to do what is right and extend these waivers. I would like to enter these letters to the record.
We all want life to get back to normal. Right now, we need our Republican colleagues to support the bipartisan tools that will help us get there.
This amendment is a short extension- there is a clear end date when schools will be back to normal operations. But in the meantime, these waivers are key to helping schools stay open and operate in person. Taking these waivers away would leave schools and summer meal programs scrambing. And that hurts the 30 million kids who eat school meals. Small rural schools – and their students – would undoubtedly be hurt the worst.
It’s time for Congress to stand with our schools and our kids.