Congress reached a bipartisan, bicameral agreement Tuesday to extend child nutrition exemptions during the summer and next school year 2022-23 that have been shown to be crucial in allowing schools to provide meals to students and navigate related interruptions. with the pandemic.
“With 90% of our schools still facing challenges as they return to their normal operations, this will give our schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to address the current problems of the school. food service, “Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat and chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said in a statement. “Congress needs to act quickly to pass this critical aid.”
Continued supply chain disruptions, inflation and rising gas prices caused a whirlwind for school nutrition teams this school year, after a year defined by pandemic-related disruptions that forced them to be creative in ensuring that students are nurtured, especially in communities with overwhelming food insecurity.
Nutrition exemptions, that was will expire in late June, have provided schools with generous reimbursement rates and allowed them flexibility to meet meal patterns and nutrition standards requirements. School nutrition directors say exemptions have been crucial in enabling school meal programs to work because of the unpredictable landscape.
A report published last month by the Food Research Action Center shows that among 62 of the largest school districts in the country, 95% reported that the exemptions helped reduce children’s hunger in their school district and more than 80% also went to say that the exemptions made things easier for the parents, eliminated. the stigma associated with receiving free school meals eased administrative work and supported academic performance.
The $ 3 billion deal was reached by Stabenow, Republican Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas, a member of the Agriculture Committee classification, and Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, chair of the Education and Labor Committee. of the House, and Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of the North. Carolina, the ranking member of this committee.
“As I visit our school nutrition professionals, it’s very clear that they need ongoing flexibilities to deal with ongoing supply chain issues,” Boozman said in a statement. “I am pleased that after lengthy bipartisan negotiations we have been able to reach an agreement to extend the exemptions in a fully paid manner.”
The legislation would allow students who meet the requirements to receive discounted meals to receive free meals, would increase federal reimbursements for each school lunch by 40 cents and each school breakfast by 15 cents. It would also expand flexibilities for schools that are unable to meet certain nutrition standards due to supply chain disruptions, as well as expand current exemptions for 2022 summer meal programs.
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“School nutrition professionals have endured crippling supply chain disruptions, rising prices and a shortage of labor in their efforts to provide students with healthy meals, at a time when families are struggling. with higher costs, “says Beth Wallace, president of the School Nutrition Association. “With crucial federal exemptions about to expire, this agreement provides school meal programs with a lifeline to help restore normal operations.”
The agreement comes after intense pressure from school nutrition groups, heads of state education, district superintendents, principals, school nutrition directors, teachers and community organizations, who collectively sent dozens of thousands of letters over the past two months urging them to extend the exemptions, which were first enacted at the start of the pandemic.
The letters describe the ongoing struggles to get enough food and supplies for students, and manufacturers suspended products ranging from low-sodium chicken breasts to low-fat milk and yogurt. School nutrition directors have reported shortages of up to 150 to 200 menu items per order, which send understaffed school nutrition teams struggling to secure replacements, as well as unprecedented price increases, including a 280% increase in the cost of a case of the types of sanitary gloves used by kitchen workers and a 137% increase in wholemeal bread.
“We are grateful that an agreement has been reached to help address the immense challenges facing schools and community organizations that work tirelessly to feed children this summer and during the school year,” said Lisa Davis, vice president. senior of No Our Hungry’s Share Our Strength campaign. . “This problem could not be more urgent with the exemptions expiring in nine days and the summer meal programs are already in place.”
Congress is expected to pass legislation this week, in time to avoid the expiration of the exemptions on June 30th.