WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) is leading 28 of her colleagues in calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fully extend school meal waivers through the end of the 2020-2021 school year so that schools have the flexibility to fully serve students whether or not they are attending school in person.
Hassan and her colleagues initially made this request in July, and the USDA recently announced that it will agree to extend some of the school meal waivers. The USDA extended until the end of the 2020-21 school year waivers that allow parents and guardians to pick up school meals — rather than students themselves — and remove the requirement that school meals be served in group settings. Some waivers have only been extended to the end of the 2020 calendar year, including one that allows school districts a higher level of reimbursement and one that accounts for unanticipated school closures.
“We are glad that you have extended some school meal waivers until the end of the 2020-2021 school year, and grateful that you recently extended some other waivers until Dec. 31, 2020. However, we remain concerned by your decision not to extend all waivers for the entire 2020-2021 school year, and we urge you to correct this as soon as possible,” wrote the senators.
The senators raise the importance of full extension given that the economic and public health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will clearly last beyond the end of the calendar year.
“The remaining waivers that you have not extended for the entire 2020-2021 school year are desperately needed by school meal providers across the country to ensure they have the funding, flexibility, and certainty to continue feeding schoolchildren for the entire upcoming school year. Many localities are dealing with budget shortfalls due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are relying on federal assistance to keep providing meals,” wrote the senators.
“Furthermore, millions of parents have lost their jobs in the past six months and are struggling to ensure that their children have access to nutritious and healthy meals. Many families are relying on school provided meals as one of the only reliable sources of healthy food for their children.”
The senators also address why the USDA already has the authority necessary to fully extend the critical waivers.
In addition to Hassan, the letter was sent by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Angus King (I-Maine), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt,), Ed Markey (D-Mass,), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).