As food prices continue to skyrocket nationwide, today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, stood at the Maplewood Family YMCA to announce the passage of the bipartisan Keep Kids Fed Act. Passed after Gillibrand urged congressional leadership to take urgent action to address child hunger, the Keep Kids Fed Act will extend all pandemic school meal waivers and other flexibilities through the summer, making it easier and more affordable for schools to provide free and healthy meals to students in need. Gillibrand was joined by Congressman Joe Morelle, Rochester Mayor Malik Evans, President & CEO of the YMCA of Greater Rochester George Romell, and Chief Operating Officer of Foodlink Terra Keller.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, putting millions of kids at risk of losing access to free school meals, we took decisive action to cut red tape and help schools continue to feed students in need,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Now, with school summer break already underway and the cost of food and other necessities skyrocketing, we have to continue doing everything we can to help schools and other summer meal providers. That’s why I’m proud that Congress heeded my call to put kids ahead of bureaucracy and extend pandemic-era flexibilities by passing the Keep Kids Fed Act. I’ll keep fighting in Congress to make sure every child in New York always knows where their next meal is coming from.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated food insecurity in communities across the country, which is why my colleagues and I took immediate action to help families put food on the table,” said Congressman Joe Morelle. “With the pandemic far from over and families feeling the pressure of rising costs, now is not the time to pull the rug out from under families in need—which is why I fought to pass critical legislation to extend meal programs and equip summer meal sites with the resources necessary to continue serving families. I’m grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s leadership and partnership on this important issue and look forward to our continued work together to uplift Rochester families.”
“How can children thrive let alone learn and be happy on an empty stomach? The bottom line is: they can’t. The good news is there is a solution: The Keep Kids Fed Act and the extension of meal waivers through the summer,” said Rochester Mayor Malik Evans.
“The YMCA of Greater Rochester is so grateful for Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Morelle for continuing to advocate for children in our community. We are helping children learn and grow every day, but we could never truly serve these young people if they didn’t know where their next meal is coming from. Programs like this make it possible to meet each child’s most basic need so they can fully thrive,” said George Romell, President & CEO, YMCA of Greater Rochester.
“I see firsthand the impact this food program has for children in our community. Making sure that each child has the food they need helps us to make a greater impact in their lives and helps our entire city grow,” said Jessica Kingsley, Executive Director, YMCA Community Services Division.
“It’s been abundantly clear during the pandemic that reducing barriers to accessing healthy school meals is simply the right thing to do – and an issue that should garner bipartisan support,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink. “We are pleased to see the passage of the Keep Kids Fed Act, which allows our Community Kitchen team to work with our partner sites, such as YMCAs and R-Centers, to explore more ways we can get more meals to children via grab-and-go and mobile distribution models. It’s our hope that, eventually, our elected leaders will push for these waivers to become permanent so that Rochester children have greater access to healthy food – especially during these difficult summer months.”
“As a mom of three, I know the rising cost of food has added undue financial strain for families, leaving many children across our state suffering from food insecurity. The Keep Kids Fed Act will serve as an important measure in our fight to reduce childhood hunger in Rochester and Monroe County, by extending the pandemic waivers allowing schools to provide nutritious meals for more students in need. I applaud Senator Gillibrand for supporting this legislation and for her long-standing commitment to combat child hunger in our country and in our state,” said Assemblywoman Sarah Clark.
During the 2021-22 school year, the USDA issued COVID-19 waivers to schools, allowing 90% of school nutrition departments nationwide to offer free meals to all students and providing additional support to schools dealing with supply chain and staffing challenges. These waivers were set to expire on June 30th; ahead of this deadline, Senator Gillibrand led 32 of her Senate colleagues in writing a bipartisan letter calling on congressional leadership to extend the waivers and expand student eligibility for free school meals. Shortly afterwards, Congress passed the Keep Kids Fed Act. The legislation will allow schools and summer meal providers to continue serving free meals, extend meal delivery and grab-and-go options, ease paperwork requirements, and provide funding to help schools offset the increased cost of food and operating expenses. The full text of the bill is available here.
Gillibrand, a long-standing advocate for child nutrition programs, also laid out her additional proposals to fight food insecurity. Gillibrand’s bipartisan More Options to Develop and Enhance Remote Nutrition in WIC Act, or MODERN WIC Act, would make it easier for eligible women and children to certify for WIC benefits by allowing them to get certified remotely. Her bipartisan Summer Meals Act would expand eligibility for free meals to more students in low-income areas and improve nutrition in rural, underserved, and hard-to-reach areas. Gillibrand is also pushing to fully fund the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program for fiscal year 2023.