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School Nutrition Association calls on Congress to make universal free meals permanent

The association says the move would help improve students’ overall health and wellness while also eliminating meal debt.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is calling on Congress to permanently expand the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs to offer all students meals at no charge. 

The request is outlined in the SNA’s 2021 Position Paper, which argues that universal free meals will support learning, improve attendance and classroom behavior, and contribute to the overall health and wellness of students. In addition, it contends the change would eliminate meal debt as well as the meal application and verification process, which can be costly and time consuming for families and school nutrition professionals.

“Providing all students equal access to a healthy school breakfast and lunch will contribute to the academic achievement, health and wellness of America’s youth at a critical time for our country,” SNA President Reggie Ross said in a statement. “School meal programs are proven to support learning and foster healthy eating habits. We must ensure these critical programs recover from financial losses incurred during the pandemic and remain sustainable to serve future generations of students.”  

In its 2021 Postion Paper, the SNA also calls on Congress to provide additional emergency funding directly to School Food Authorities (SFAs) to help them continue to make up for financial losses that have occurred since the start of the pandemic. A study released by the SNA this past fall revealed that over half of respondents to an SNA survey (52%) reported a financial loss last school year and 62% anticipate one this year.

With meal participation dropping dramatically due to the pandemic, the SNA is also asking legislators to have the USDA to use Fiscal Year 2019 participation data when calculating future entitlement and State Administrative Expense (SAE) fund values for schools. 

The SNA is also seeking to reduce regulatory and administrative burdens, and is in favor of the recently proposed rule to relax milk, grains and sodium requirements in child nutrition programs.

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