Pandemic waiver extensions for school nutrition programs are in jeopardy as funding to expand the waivers was not included in the $1.5 trillion Omnibus spending bill being brought before the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The waivers, which have already received multiple extensions, are set to expire at the end of June. They allow school nutrition programs to receive higher reimbursement rates, provide universal free meals to students and more.
News of the omission came as hundreds of school nutrition professionals met with their representatives earlier this week on Capitol Hill to push for waiver extensions as part of the School Nutrition Association’s Legislative Action Conference (LAC).
Without the waivers, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) says that school nutrition programs will face mounting costs that will cripple their ability to feed kids.
“We desperately need these waivers to manage unyielding supply chain disruptions and labor shortages, cover rapidly escalating costs and remain viable to support our communities,” SNA President Beth Wallace said in a statement. “Congress’ failure to act will undoubtedly cause students to go hungry and leave school meal programs in financial peril.”
Wallace also warned that the loss of the waivers would impact funding for teachers and other school programs and resources.
“We will undoubtedly see mounting meal program losses that cut into funds for teachers, textbooks and technology to support learning,” she added.
During LAC, Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service Cindy Long reiterated the USDA’s support for the extension of the waivers and warned that the department’s ability to provide certain flexibilities to school nutrition programs would be diminished going forward.
“Our ability to change the rules, change the way funding works is much, much more limited,” Long told LAC attendees on Monday. “We won't be able to do things like providing the summer rates or providing universal meals across the board.”
The USDA and the SNA are currently working on identifying the resources the department has at its disposal to help support school nutrition programs when the waivers expire.
“We will work with you to meet the challenge,” Long told LAC attendees. “This is a program and a community that is nothing if not resilient. We will find a way to continue to serve kids going forward and support the programs that mean so much.”