Heinrich, Stabenow Introduce Bill To Extend School And Summer Meal Flexibilities To Feed Children

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) cosponsored the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and a bipartisan group of their colleagues.

The bill extends U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) school meal flexibilities from June 30, 2022 to September 30, 2023. These flexibilities have been crucial to feeding children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With 90% of our schools still facing many challenges as they return to normal operations, these flexibilities give our schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to deal with ongoing food service issues and keep kids fed. The bill will also help schools transition back to normal meal operations under the National School Lunch Program. USDA requested this authority be extended in the Omnibus Appropriations Agreement.

“Extending the flexibilities that have allowed schools to provide our kids with healthy breakfast, lunch, and summer meals throughout the pandemic is the right thing to do,” said Heinrich. “No child in New Mexico should go hungry when we have the ability to provide them with healthy meals.”

“We should make it easier for kids to get the meals they need – not harder. Our bill cuts red tape and keeps the priority on giving children the healthy meals they need and deserve,” said Chairwoman Stabenow. “As we come out of this pandemic, schools are doing their best - but it takes time for them to transition back to their operations before COVID. We can’t let hungry kids get caught in the middle. Without this support, up to 30 million kids who get food at school will see their essential breakfast and lunch meals disrupted. And millions of hungry kids who rely on summer meals may have nowhere to go to get food.”

In March, Senator Heinrich led a letter along with 29 other Senate Democrats to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to pass legislation providing USDA authority to issue all necessary waivers and flexibilities for schools and program operators to ensure that federal child nutrition programs can continue providing healthy snacks and meals to students.

Senator Heinrich is also an original cosponsor of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ (D-Vt.) Universal School Meals Act, which would permanently provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack to all school children regardless of income, eliminate school meal debt, and strengthen local economies by incentivizing local food procurement.

Anti-hunger and nutrition advocates reiterated the importance of these flexibilities and applauded the Senators’ bill to keep critical flexibilities for school nutrition programs to feed children.

“School meal programs, a crucial source of nutritional support for millions of families nationwide, face tremendous immediate and long-term challenges in the absence of these child nutrition waivers,” said Beth Wallace, president of the School Nutrition Association. “Acute supply chain disruptions, persistent labor shortages and escalating costs make it impossible for these programs to return to normal operations next school year. This legislation is absolutely critical to sustaining school meal programs, ensuring children have access to nutritious school meals and preventing substantial financial losses for schools nationwide.”

“The sooner the USDA is authorized to extend child nutrition waivers, the sooner schools and community organizations can plan meal programs for summer and next school year,” said Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. “Schools and community meal providers continue to face extreme pandemic-related challenges like supply chain disruptions, rising food prices and staffing shortages. Without waivers, they will have a difficult time responding to these challenges in real-time, impacting their ability to safely and effectively reach kids with the nutrition they need and stunting their ability to transition to normal operations as those challenges subside.”

“Nearly 12 million children struggle to know where their next meal will come from, disrupting their ability to reach their full potential. Fortunately, child nutrition waivers have helped provide year-round access to much-needed nutrition. If the waivers aren’t extended, millions of children will lose that access, with Black, Latino, and Native American children, and children in rural areas, being hit hardest,” said Vince Hall, chief government relations officer, Feeding America. “Because of the delay in extending the waivers, some site sponsors will have to close summer and after-school meal sites, translating to taking away meals that families are relying on to keep their kids nourished. Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, applauds the introduction of this bill to extend child nutrition waivers, continuing this critical lifeline for children. We urge Congress to act immediately to ensure our children don’t face hunger this summer and beyond.”

“Every member of NMSNA would like to publicly express our heartfelt thanks to Senators Heinrich & Stabenow for initiating the letter to their leadership and championing the efforts to help school nutrition programs not only in New Mexico but all over our great country. We need help and the continuation of all waivers and additional reimbursements is just the lifeline we need to keep our children thriving as we all continue to live through the aftermath of the pandemic," said the New Mexico School Nutrition Association.

"NEA-NM stands in strong support of this legislation, and we appreciate all the work that has gone into it. As a veteran middle school teacher, there is nothing more important to the education of students in NM and across the nation, than proper and adequate nutrition. Thank you Senator Heinrich for advocating for the most vulnerable citizens, our children." said Mary Parr-Sanchez, President of the National Education Association New Mexico.

In addition to Senators Heinrich and Stabenow, this legislation is cosponsored by 50 members of Congress including U.S. Sensators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tina Smith (D-Minn), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Angus King (I-Maine), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).