An expired federal program that offered free meals to all school students during the epidemic and released requirements regarding what they must feed will return to the table if new legislation is passed.
A bipartisan bill introduced Thursday in the Senate seeks to continue the initiative by extending the federal waiver that allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help schools in several ways. That effort took a hit this month when Congress passed the $ 1.5 trillion bill without agreeing on whether to continue funding the waiver.
Co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Debbie Stevenov, D-Mich., Said those benefits were critical during the epidemic, but she wants to see the waiver extended until June 30, when they are now due to be repealed, and continue until September 30, 2023.
Stevenov, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said she was disappointed the issue had become bipartisan, but managed to bring up Republican colleagues, including Senator Lisa Morkowski, Ar-Alaska and Senator Susan Collins, Ar-Maine.
“Certainly, with 90 percent of schools currently using flexibility and desperate to maintain it, it’s almost all of America, including red states,” Stevenov said.
Child nutritionists and hunger advocates have criticized the lack of action as short-sighted at a time when ongoing supply chain disruptions and labor shortages have made student feeding a challenge, and towards summer, when children are still dependent on federally funded meal plans but limited access.
During the epidemic, the waiver allowed the Ministry of Agriculture to reimburse schools at higher rates for the cost of meals; Prevent schools from being punished if they fail to meet certain regulatory requirements, such as serving specific foods that meet dietary guidelines; And give schools flexibility in how and where students are fed, including enabling families to pick up meals.
In addition, the waiver allowed schools to provide free meals to all students without their families first having to meet the income requirements set by the federal government.
The concession was supported by Democrats and Republicans, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, RK. According to the report Against their funding – at a cost of $ 11 billion – in the latest congressional spending package.
At the center of the debate was whether to continue paying for programs that had benefited since the first months of the epidemic. The Republican leadership defined the waiver as temporary, and they did not immediately respond on Thursday if they were attentive to Stabenow’s bill, which she calls the Child Care Act.
Morkowski said in a statement that the issue of children’s hunger is too crucial not to address it.
“Following the widespread disturbances caused by Cubid, life is starting to feel more ‘normal’ for some of them,” Morkowski said. “However, many Alaska residents are still working to overcome the economic downturn and many schools continue to struggle with supply shortages and higher prices.”
The cost of the bill is still under development, and some version of it may end up in a future Covid-related funding program, Stabenow said.
While supporters of the bill are the majority of Democrats, She plans to continue talking to her Republican colleagues in an effort to find “a way forward to maintain the flexibility and funding to feed our children.”
Nutritionists in schools said they would also turn to Capitol Hill to seek support for the bill.
“Severe supply chain disruptions, persistent staff shortages and rising costs do not allow these programs to return to normal operation next school year,” said Beth Wallace, president of the School Nutrition Association, which represents more than 55,000 school nutrition professionals. “This legislation is absolutely critical to the existence of school meal plans.”