Chairwoman Stabenow and Senator Murkowski Lead Bill to Extend School and Summer Meal Flexibilities to Feed Children

Thursday, March 31, 2022

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) along with 50 of their colleagues introduced the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act. 


The bill extends USDA school meal flexibilities from June 30, 2022 to September 30, 2023. These flexibilities have been crucial to feeding children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With 90% of our schools still facing many challenges as they return to normal operations, these flexibilities give our schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to deal with ongoing food service issues and keep kids fed. The bill will also help schools transition back to normal meal operations under the National School Lunch Program. USDA requested this authority be extended in the omnibus.


“We should make it easier for kids to get the meals they need – not harder. Our bill cuts red tape and keeps the priority on giving children the healthy meals they need and deserve,” said Senator Stabenow. “As we come out of this pandemic, schools are doing their best - but it takes time for them to transition back to their operations before COVID. We can’t let hungry kids get caught in the middle. Without this support, up to 30 million kids who get food at school will see their essential breakfast and lunch meals disrupted. And millions of hungry kids who rely on summer meals may have nowhere to go to get food.”


“For far too many children in Alaska and across the nation, hunger is a daily reality. For many students, the meals served at school, and in summer or afterschool programs, may be the only meals they can count on,” said Senator Murkowski. “Following the widespread disruptions caused by COVID, life is beginning to feel more ‘normal’ for some. However, many Alaskans are still working to overcome the economic fallout from the pandemic and many schools continue to struggle with supply shortages and higher prices. That’s why I’m glad to join Senator Stabenow and my Senate colleagues in a push to allow USDA to extend vital support for school nutrition programs and preventing barriers that may prevent students from receiving a healthy meal.”


In addition to Sens. Stabenow and Murkowski, this legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Heinrich (D-NM), Collins (R-ME), Manchin (D-WV), Gillibrand (D-NY), Casey (D-PA), Van Hollen (D-MD), Smith (D-MN), Brown (D-OH), Baldwin (D-WI), Booker (D-NJ), Lujan (D-NM), Klobuchar (D-MN), Durbin (D-IL), Warnock (D-GA), Markey (D-MA), Hirono (D-HI), Duckworth (D-IL), Sanders (I-VT), Reed (D-RI), Leahy (D-VT), Wyden (D-OR), Shaheen (D-NH), Hassan (D-NH), Bennet (D-CO), Merkley (D-OR), Warren (D-MA), Padilla (D-CA), Warner (D-VA), Murray (D-WA), Cardin (D-MD), Coons (D-DE), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Carper (D-DE), Schatz (D-HI), Peters (D-MI), King (I-ME), Feinstein (D-CA), Rosen (D-NV), Menendez (D-NJ), Kaine (D-VA), Blumenthal (D-CT), Murphy (D-CT), Hickenlooper (D-CO), Whitehouse (D-RI), Kelly (D-AZ), Sinema (D-AZ), Ossoff (D-GA), Tester (D-MT), Schumer (D-NY), and Cantwell (D-WA).


Anti-hunger and nutrition advocates reiterated the importance of these flexibilities and applauded the Senators’ bill to keep critical flexibilities for school nutrition programs to feed children.


“School meal programs, a crucial source of nutritional support for millions of families nationwide, face tremendous immediate and long-term challenges in the absence of these child nutrition waivers,” said Beth Wallace, president of the School Nutrition Association. “Acute supply chain disruptions, persistent labor shortages and escalating costs make it impossible for these programs to return to normal operations next school year. This legislation is absolutely critical to sustaining school meal programs, ensuring children have access to nutritious school meals and preventing substantial financial losses for schools nationwide.”


“Without Congressional action, the child nutrition waivers will end on June 30, 2022, causing millions of children to face a hunger cliff when they lose access to summer and school meals. Furthermore, schools and community-based organizations that feed our nation’s children need time to recover from the impact of the pandemic,” said Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center. “We applaud Senator Stabenow for her leadership on this issue and strongly endorse this bill which would extend waiver authority through September 30, 2023. Hungry children can't wait." 


"As our country continues to experience challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including supply chain and labor shortages as well as increased food costs, access to healthful school meals remains of the utmost importance,” said Kevin L. Sauer, registered dietitian nutritionist and the 2021-2022 President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Without crucial waivers in place, more children will be at risk for food insecurity and schools will no longer have flexibilities they badly need to operate successful, financially solvent programs. The Academy thanks and supports Sen. Stabenow, who is championing the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act, which would ensure continued access to healthful meals for students.”


“The sooner the USDA is authorized to extend child nutrition waivers, the sooner schools and community organizations can plan meal programs for summer and next school year,” said Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. “Schools and community meal providers continue to face extreme pandemic-related challenges like supply chain disruptions, rising food prices and staffing shortages. Without waivers, they will have a difficult time responding to these challenges in real-time, impacting their ability to safely and effectively reach kids with the nutrition they need and stunting their ability to transition to normal operations as those challenges subside.”


“Nearly 12 million children struggle to know where their next meal will come from, disrupting their ability to reach their full potential. Fortunately, child nutrition waivers have helped provide year-round access to much-needed nutrition. If the waivers aren’t extended, millions of children will lose that access, with Black, Latino, and Native American children, and children in rural areas, being hit hardest,” said Vince Hall, chief government relations officer, Feeding America. “Because of the delay in extending the waivers, some site sponsors will have to close summer and after-school meal sites, translating to taking away meals that families are relying on to keep their kids nourished. Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, applauds the introduction of this bill to extend child nutrition waivers, continuing this critical lifeline for children. We urge Congress to act immediately to ensure our children don’t face hunger this summer and beyond.”


A broad spectrum of groups sent in letters to Congress to extend the child nutrition waiver authority. Letters included: