Press Release

Gillibrand, Colleagues Push For Support Of School Meals Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Aug 4, 2020

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recently joined 35 colleagues to urge the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue critical flexibilities that have allowed students to access much-needed meals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. If extended throughout the 2020-2021 school year, children would maintain access regardless of school opening status, and struggling school nutrition programs would benefit from additional financial relief. 

To help ensure school meal program directors and staff have the certainty that they need to begin preparing for the upcoming school year, the senators are urging the USDA to extend a variety of waivers that will help ensure low-income students can access school-provided meals throughout the upcoming school year. Additionally, the senators are calling on the USDA to reimburse schools for the transportation costs for delivering meals to low-income students.

“No child should have to go hungry because of the pandemic’s disruption of in-classroom learning. Thousands of New York school children depend on school meals to get the nutrition they need, but the COVID-19 has deepened the hunger crisis countless families were already struggling to manage,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We must do everything possible to give school meal program directors and staff the best tools to meet this hunger crisis head on, including the extension of critical waivers that help families get fresh fruits and vegetables on the table.”

Senator Gillibrand previously pushed the Trump administration to approve and expedite New York State’s request to operate the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program authorized under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  The P-EBT program created under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides assistance to families of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals dealing with school closures. If schools have been closed for more than five consecutive days due to the pandemic, P-EBT sends eligible households an EBT card with the value of free school breakfast and lunch for the days that schools are closed. The program permits New York State to provide benefits similar to SNAP benefits to more than 1.4 million children in the state who normally receive free or reduced price school meals and those who attend schools that offer free meals to all students. 

In April, Gillibrand announced the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2020 to expand SNAP benefits for families struggling to make ends meet and she has pushed Congress to include SNAP expansion in the next coronavirus relief package.

Read the senators’ letter below or click here.   

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write in support of the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) request that United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) extend a number of school meal program waivers for the entire 2020-2021 school year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools around the country to close their buildings and shift instruction to online and distance-learning models. For many children, school breakfast and lunch may be the only healthy and regular meals they receive. We want to thank USDA for its flexibility granting waivers of school meal program requirements this past school year and this summer. The 2020-2021 school year will likely be marked by similar closures, with many children having to learn from home. The economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in millions of parents losing their jobs, and millions more students will be dependent on school-provided meals. School meal program directors must begin procuring food, equipment, and supplies and placing orders now in preparation for the upcoming school year.

We were pleased that USDA extended a number of waivers for school meal program regulatory requirements until the end of the 2020-2021 school year, including the meal pattern requirement, the parent/guardian pickup requirement, the congregate feeding requirement, and the mealtime requirement. However, to help ensure school meal program directors and staff have the certainty they need to begin preparing for the upcoming school year, we urge you to also extend the following waivers nationwide until the end of the 2020-2021 school year: 

         Unexpected School Closures Waiver

         Afterschool Activity Waiver

         Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program Parent Pick-Up Waiver

         Waiver of Child Nutrition Monitoring

         Waiver of Food Management Company Contract Duration Requirements

         Waiver of Local School Wellness Assessments

         Area Eligibility Waiver

         Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) Waivers

Additionally, it has come to our attention that under the current regulations, the transportation costs for delivering meals to low-income students are not reimbursed by the USDA. While many school meal programs are managing these costs for the time-being, they cannot continue absorbing them for the foreseeable future. We ask that the USDA make additional funds available to schools to assist with the cost of delivering meals to low-income students until regular school operations are restored. 

During such an unprecedented crisis, we must ensure that schoolchildren have enough to eat. We thank USDA for all its work so far that helped keep children fed, and we ask that you continue doing everything you can to do the same for the upcoming school year.