September 04, 2020

Gillibrand Continues Push To Extend School Nutrition Program Through 2020-2021 School Year

Push Echoes Gillibrand’s Recent Calls to Extend School Meal Waivers and P-EBT Program Through School Year to Support Hungry Children As Uncertainty Over In-Person Learning Continues

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined her colleagues to urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to extend certain school meal waivers through the end of the 2020-21 school year to ensure that students receive nutritious meals during continued uncertainty over in-person learning. Specifically, the senators are requesting the extension of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), Seamless Summer Option (SSO), and Area Eligibility Waivers, which, as of August 31, were only extended through the end of Calendar Year 2020 by USDA. Additionally, Gillibrand and her colleagues are requesting the extension of the Unexpected School Closures Waiver, which would extend the period during which unanticipated school closure meal programs can operate. If extended throughout the 2020-2021 school year, these waivers would ensure students maintain access to school meals, regardless of school opening status, and struggling school nutrition programs would benefit from additional financial relief. Following the senators’ initial call in July, the USDA agreed to extend some school meal waivers through the end of the 2020-21 school year — including those that allow parents and guardians to pick up school meals. The USDA also removed the requirement that school meals be served in group settings. 

“As learning continues to be disrupted due to the pandemic, it’s unacceptable that the USDA has not extended all school meal waivers throughout the current school year. No child should go hungry because they are unable to go to school,” said Senator Gillibrand. “More than a million New York school children depend on school meals to get the nutrition they need, but COVID-19 has deepened the hunger crisis countless families were already struggling to manage. We must do everything possible to give school meal program directors and staff the best tools to ensure children have access to nutritious and healthy meals and I will continue fighting to provide them with the funding and flexibility they need.” 

Senator Gillibrand has been a strong advocate in the fight against the growing hunger crisis caused by the pandemic. Earlier this week, Gillibrand toured all five boroughs of Manhattan and visited Rome and Elmira to call for an extension of the P-EBT program and SNAP benefits in the next coronavirus relief package. 

Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

Thank you for your letter dated August 20, 2020 in response to our letter dated July 29, 2020 urging you to extend all relevant school meal waivers for the entire 2020-2021 school year. 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 December 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. We also write to express disagreement with your conclusion that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not have the authority to extend these waivers until the end of the next school year.

In your response to our July 29th letter you wrote that the request to extend all of the relevant waivers “is beyond what USDA currently has the authority to implement.” This conclusion is based off an incorrect interpretation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Pub. L. No. 116-127) (“FFCRA”). FFCRA clearly provided USDA with the authority to issue these waivers for the 2020-2021 school year. The only constraint that Congress imposed upon USDA’s authority to issue these waivers was the requirement in Section 2202(e) that they be issued on or before September 30, 2020. Waivers issued prior to that sunset date can still cover periods after the sunset date, including the entire 2020-2021 school year.  USDA’s previous decision to extend a number of the nationwide waivers that we mentioned in our letter until the end of the 2020-2021 school year including for the food management company contract duration, local school wellness assessment, and the fresh fruit and vegetable program parent pickup requirements – and your recent decision to extend the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), Seamless Summer Option (SSO), and Area Eligibility Waivers until the end of this calendar year – clearly show that USDA believes it has the authority to extend these waivers well beyond the sunset date.

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. 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.

We urge you to reverse your decision and use the authority given to your Department under the FFCRA to extend the following waivers nationwide for the entire 2020-2021 school year: 

·         Area Eligibility Waiver

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

·         Unexpected School Closures Waiver

We recognize the incredible effort USDA has undertaken to ensure that millions of schoolchildren in this country do not go hungry. This hard work is not yet complete and we implore you to continue working with states and use USDA’s already existing authority to provide them with the flexibility needed to enable food authorities to provide meals through USDA’s child nutrition programs. We look forward to receiving your response as soon as possible on this timely matter.