Also in this week’s legislative update: A bill aims to expand summer meal access in rural areas, and Ohio and Louisiana consider eliminating the reduced-price meal category.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

By:  Benita Gingerella

Food Service Director

It’s been a busy month at the federal level for school meal legislation. 

The House Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee has released its latest appropriations bill, and students in rural areas could soon have an easier time accessing meals during the summer months.

Meanwhile, at the state level, a handful of lawmakers are working to expand free meal access for students. 

Here’s a recap of the latest in school nutrition legislation. 

Agriculture appropriations bill would provide over $31B in child nutrition funding

The House Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee introduced its fiscal year 2024 appropriations bill, which includes funding for child nutrition programs. 

The bill allots $31.9 billion to support school nutrition programs, $3 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School program, $20 million in competitive grants to state agencies to fund school kitchen equipment purchases, $21 million for USDA studies and evaluation and $18 million to carry out USDA Team Nutrition initiatives. 

In addition, starting in the 2024-2025 school year, the bill would exclude a to-be-determined amount of sodium used in cheesemaking for food safety and functional purposes from weekly school meal sodium limits. The USDA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be responsible for deciding the excluded amount. If no determination is made, the Target 1 sodium levels from the USDA’s 2012 final rule will apply. 

The bill also allows school lunch and breakfast programs, as well as child and adult care food programs to serve flavored, low-fat milk.

School milk offerings have been in the spotlight recently. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently deciding whether  to change flavored milk requirements in schools. Over the past several months, bills have also been introduced that would require schools to serve flavored milksoy milk and whole milk

Federal bill aims to improve rural summer meal access 

Students in rural areas could get summer meals delivered to their homes under a new bill introduced by U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). 

The Feeding Our Rural Kids (FORK) Act would create a summer meal delivery pilot program intended to feed students in rural communities. Under the bill, schools and summer foodservice providers could apply for grant funding to purchase mobile vehicles to deliver the meals to the students during the summer months. 

Sen. Merkley’s bill was inspired by Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe, who purchased a vehicle to deliver meals to students during the summer. 

“Every child-everywhere-deserves nutritious meals all year long,” Sen. Merkley said in a statement. “Umatilla Superintendent Heidi Sipe thought outside the box to make sure her students got the meals they needed. The FORK Act creates a pilot program to help ensure our rural kids have access to essential meals no matter the season and no matter where they live throughout America.”

State lawmakers consider covering reduced-price meals at school 

Ohio and Louisiana could offer school meals at no charge for students who qualify for reduced-price meals. 

The Ohio House passed its state budget bill, which includes funding in the state’s Department of Education budget to cover reduced-price meals. The bill has been introduced in the Ohio Senate and referred to the Finance Committee.

In Louisiana, the House passed a bill that would also provide free school breakfast and lunch to students who are eligible for reduced-price meals. That bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education. 

Currently, Arizona, New Mexico and Virginia fully cover reduced-price meals at school for students. 

Nevada mulls extending universal free meals 

A Nevada lawmaker wants to extend the state’s universal free meals program for another school year. 

The state has been providing free meals to all students this year using funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

The meals are set to end with next school year, but a bill introduced by Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui would extend the program through the end of the 2024-2025 school year using $50 million from the state’s general fund. 

The bill is currently in the Committee on Ways and Means.