Merkley, Wyden Urge School Nutrition Program Extension for 2020-2021 School Year

Merkley, Wyden Urge School Nutrition Program Extension for 2020-2021 School Year

WASHINGTON – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and 27 of their Democratic Senate colleagues are calling for a full extension of school meal waivers through the end of the 2020-2021 school year so that schools have the flexibility that they need to fully serve students whether or not they are attending school in person.

Merkley, Wyden and their colleagues initially made this request in July, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced that it will agree to extend some of the school meal waivers.

“We are glad that you have extended some school meal waivers until the end of the 2020-2021 school year, and grateful that you recently extended some other waivers until December 31, 2020. However, we remain concerned by your decision not to extend all waivers for the entire 2020-2021 school year, and we urge you to correct this as soon as possible,” wrote the senators.

The senators raise the importance of full extension given that the economic and public health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will clearly last beyond the end of the calendar year.

“The remaining waivers that you have not extended for the entire 2020-2021 school year are desperately needed by school meal providers across the country to ensure they have the funding, flexibility, and certainty to continue feeding schoolchildren for the entire upcoming school year. Many localities are dealing with budget shortfalls due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are relying on federal assistance to keep providing meals,” wrote the senators. “Furthermore, millions of parents have lost their jobs in the past six months and are struggling to ensure that their children have access to nutritious and healthy meals. Many families are relying on school provided meals as one of the only reliable sources of healthy food for their children.”

The senators also address why USDA already has the authority necessary to fully extend the critical waivers.

In addition to Senators Merkley and Wyden, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Read the senators’ full letter here or below:

Dear Secretary Perdue:

Thank you for your letter dated August 20, 2020 in response to our letter dated July 29, 2020 urging you to extend all relevant school meal waivers for the entire 2020-2021 school year. We are glad that you have extended some school meal waivers until the end of the 2020-2021 school year, and grateful that you recently extended some other waivers until December 31, 2020. However, we remain concerned by your decision not to extend all waivers for the entire 2020-2021 school year, and we urge you to correct this as soon as possible. We also write to express disagreement with your conclusion that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not have the authority to extend these waivers until the end of the next school year.

In your response to our July 29th letter you wrote that the request to extend all of the relevant waivers “is beyond what USDA currently has the authority to implement.” This conclusion is based off an incorrect interpretation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Pub. L. No. 116-127) (“FFCRA”). FFCRA clearly provided USDA with the authority to issue these waivers for the 2020-2021 school year. The only constraint that Congress imposed upon USDA’s authority to issue these waivers was the requirement in Section 2202(e) that they be issued on or before September 30, 2020. Waivers issued prior to that sunset date can still cover periods after the sunset date, including the entire 2020-2021 school year.  USDA’s previous decision to extend a number of the nationwide waivers that we mentioned in our letter until the end of the 2020-2021 school year including for the food management company contract duration, local school wellness assessment, and the fresh fruit and vegetable program parent pickup requirements – and your recent decision to extend the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), Seamless Summer Option (SSO), and Area Eligibility Waivers until the end of this calendar year – clearly show that USDA believes it has the authority to extend these waivers well beyond the sunset date. [1] 

The remaining waivers that you have not extended for the entire 2020-2021 school year are desperately needed by school meal providers across the country to ensure they have the funding, flexibility, and certainty to continue feeding schoolchildren for the entire upcoming school year. Many localities are dealing with budget shortfalls due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are relying on federal assistance to keep providing meals. Furthermore, millions of parents have lost their jobs in the past six months and are struggling to ensure that their children have access to nutritious and healthy meals. Many families are relying on school provided meals as one of the only reliable sources of healthy food for their children.

We urge you to reverse your decision and use the authority given to your Department under the FFCRA to extend the following waivers nationwide for the entire 2020-2021 school year:

  • Area Eligibility Waiver
  • Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) Waivers
  • Unexpected School Closures Waiver

We recognize the incredible effort USDA has undertaken to ensure that millions of schoolchildren in this country do not go hungry. This hard work is not yet complete and we implore you to continue working with states and use USDA’s already existing authority to provide them with the flexibility needed to enable food authorities to provide meals through USDA’s child nutrition programs. For any questions, please reach out to Andres Hoyos at Andres_Hoyos@hassan.senate.gov and Tom Koester at Tom_Koester@hassan.senate.gov.  We look forward to receiving your response as soon as possible on this timely matter.