School Meal Programs in Peril

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Contact: Diane Pratt-Heavner  

703-576-7526  

media@schoolnutrition.org  

School Meal Programs in Peril  

 2022-03-09

Congress’ Omnibus Spending Bill Lacks Critical Waivers   

ARLINGTON, VA – The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is pleading for Congress to take immediate action to extend pandemic waivers for school meal programs, following news that the omnibus spending bill fails to include expected  waiver extensions, which had widespread, bipartisan support.

“The loss of child nutrition waivers will devastate school meal programs, impacting millions of students and working families who increasingly depend on our meals,” said SNA President Beth Wallace, MBA, SNS. “We all want to put the pandemic behind us, but what school meal programs face is nowhere close to normal. We desperately need these waivers to manage unyielding supply chain disruptions and labor shortages, cover rapidly escalating costs and remain viable to support our communities. Congress’ failure to act will undoubtedly cause students to go hungry and leave school meal programs in financial peril.”

Pandemic child nutrition waivers, set to expire on June 30, kept school meal programs financially afloat by reimbursing free meals at a higher rate to account for rising food, supply and labor costs. In SNA’s November 2021 Supply Chain Survey, 97% of meal programs reported challenges with higher costs (nearly three quarters cited a “significant challenge”) and 95% reported staff shortages.

“If the waivers expire, schools will be unable to sustain salaries needed to staff our kitchens or afford the fresh fruits and vegetables we want to serve our students each day. We will undoubtedly see mounting meal program losses that cut into funds for teachers, textbooks and technology to support learning,” said Wallace.

Current waivers allow schools to offer free meals to all students and expand meal services in communities, giving students a choice to benefit from healthy meals and eliminating stigma. Without extensions, schools nationwide will be forced to cancel or scale back this summer’s meal services for local families. At back-to-school time, short-staffed school nutrition teams, struggling just to get enough food in the kitchen and meals prepared, will scramble to manage meal applications. Meal programs will be forced to raise prices on families ineligible for free or reduced price meals.

Yesterday, nearly 700 school nutrition professionals met with their Congressional representatives to call for waiver extensions as part of SNA’s 50th annual Legislative Action Conference. Participants also discussed the critical need to extend waivers permitting schools to modify menus based on availability when vendors and distributors cancel deliveries, and to quickly adapt meal services to support students with grab-and-go options as needed. In addition to the meetings, more than 133,000 letters have been sent in the last week to urge Congress to support waiver extensions.

Research shows school meals are the healthiest meals children eat; we should be encouraging more students to eat them, not making it more difficult for children to access meals,” said Wallace. “Congress’ failure to extend these waivers restricts access to nutritious meals and jeopardizes all the progress we’ve achieved in school meal programs.” 

About School Nutrition Association:
The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is a national, non-profit professional organization representing 50,000 school nutrition professionals across the country. Founded in 1946, SNA and its members are dedicated to making healthy school meals and nutrition education available to all students.  For more information on school meals, visit www.SchoolNutrition.org/SchoolMeals.     

 

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