Under Pressure From Merkley and Colleagues, USDA Agrees to Extend School Nutrition Program Through End of 2020-2021 School Year

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley today applauded the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to extend school meal waivers through the end of the 2020-2021 school year. The announcement follows a pressure campaign by Merkley and his colleagues, which included multiple letters to the USDA, urging the department to give schools the flexibility they need to fully serve students whether or not they are attending school in person.

The news comes as some of the largest school districts in Oregon announced that they will continue with full-time, online only instruction through at least February. As of now, those school districts include Portland Public Schools, Salem-Keizer School District, and Beaverton School District.

“In the richest country in the world, every child should be going to bed each night with a fully belly,” said Merkley, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the USDA. “But even before the coronavirus hit, keeping food on the table and in kids’ lunchboxes was a daily struggle for hundreds of thousands of Oregonians and millions of Americans. I’m relieved that the USDA has finally agreed to take this step to help communities feed our schoolchildren during this turbulent time—but much more work lies ahead in our fight to end hunger in America, and I will continue to do all that I can to see it through.”

In addition to urging the USDA to extend the waivers, Merkley has taken a number of steps to keep a steady drumbeat on the need to provide nutritional assistance for the millions of Americans—including over 500,000 Oregonians, almost 200,000 of whom are children—experiencing food insecurity.  Earlier this year, Merkley forcefully called for the strengthening of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps, and successfully secured a requirement for the USDA to once again provide summer benefits to Oregonians through SNAP’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program. The EBT program provides summer meals for children, and was previously cut by the Trump administration—without justification—in 2019.

Additionally, Merkley has worked to help vulnerable families limit their exposure to the virus by leading a group of lawmakers in calling on Amazon and Walmart to waive delivery fees and minimum order requirements for Americans who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) support. In May, Merkley also teamed up with his colleagues to call on the USDA to immediately work to ensure that SNAP recipients can utilize home food delivery and curbside pickup options