Senator Stabenow, Michigan Education Leaders Secure School Meal Flexibilities to Feed Students

After Senator Stabenow urged action, USDA reverses its decision and extends all flexibilities to provide school meals to children through December

Monday, August 31, 2020

 LANSING, Mich– U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reversed its decision and will take action to provide healthy meals to students through December 31, 2020. Last week, Senator Stabenow joined State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice and other leaders to urge the USDA to make this change and extend flexibilities that allow Michigan schools to feed children during the COVID-19 crisis.


“The USDA has finally listened to calls from educators and parents across Michigan and agreed to extend important school meals flexibilities,” said Senator Stabenow. “This is a positive first step forward that will ensure millions of children in Michigan and across the country will get the healthy food they need to learn and thrive. Because many schools will need this certainty to continue, I encourage the Department to take the next step and extend these flexibilities for the full school year.”


“We are delighted that Secretary Perdue heard the voices of those in Michigan and across the country who advocated for full flexibility in feeding our children,” said Michigan’s State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice. “Given that the pandemic continues, the secretary’s decision to continue his waivers of the last six months, although delayed, is welcome and appreciated.”


These flexibilities will continue to make meal service easier in a number of ways, including:


  •  Reducing the accounting burden on schools by providing meals to every student for free rather than forcing schools to develop a system to track and charge students who receive free, reduced price or paid meals, which could have caused families to incur meal debt. 


  • Allowing families to continue to pick up meals at one location rather than making parents go to different schools if they have multiple children in different school districts.


  • Providing meals for every day of the week. Meals would have been reduced to only 5 days per week or less.


  • Permitting community childcare organizations to continue providing meals. Many organizations like Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA are giving meals to children that are spending days there if their school is on a rotational schedule. 


In the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Congress granted authority to the USDA to issue waivers so schools and community sponsors could provide school meals to children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, the USDA stopped short of extending all available flexibilities that keep children fed while schools are closed and reduce administrative burdens for schools. Recently, Senator Stabenow, Dr. Rice, and other education officials called on the USDA to reverse its decision and take action.


In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on August 14, Senator Stabenow joined Congressman Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (VA-03), Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, to urge the USDA to take action and use its full authority to provide healthy meals to students for the duration of the school year. Secretary Perdue responded on August 20 and refused to extend waivers that allowed states and schools to more seamlessly operate through the emergency summer meal programs. On August 26, Senator Stabenow and Congressman Scott sent a follow up letter denouncing the USDA’s inaction and calling for the Department to reverse its harmful decision.


Funding estimates that have been presented to Congress so far indicate the cost of extending these flexibilities is similar to the cost of funding the standard school meals programs. Should additional funding be requested by USDA to further extend these waivers, Congress will work with the Department to address any funding needs to ensure children continue to receive meals.