Wyden, Merkley Co-sponsor Bill to Extend Summer Meal Flexibilities to Feed Children

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today they are co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation that would extend federal school meal flexibilities for children in Oregon and nationwide from June 30, 2022 to September 30, 2023.

These flexibilities have been crucial to feeding children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. And with 90 percent of schools still facing many challenges as they return to normal operations, these flexibilities give schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to deal with ongoing food service issues and keep kids fed. The Support Kids Not Red Tape Act also would help schools make the transition back to normal meal operations under the National School Lunch Program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requested this authority be extended in the omnibus.

“Hunger doesn’t take a vacation and neither can the year-round work to fight this scourge facing far too many children in Oregon and throughout the country,” Wyden said. “Meals in the summer and throughout the school year provide essential help for students needing nutritious breakfasts and lunches so they can have the best opportunity to learn and lead healthy lives. The importance of these meals became magnified as families weathered the economic fallout from the pandemic, and these flexibilities should be extended while schools continue working hard to make the transition back to operations before COVID.

“Every child—regardless of the color of their skin, the town they live in, or where their parents work—deserves nutritious meals all year long,” Merkley said. “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, over half a million people in Oregon, including one in five children, struggled with food insecurity. As kids transition back into schools, the last thing they should be concerned about is their next meal. My colleagues and I have the opportunity to extend federal school meal flexibilities in Oregon and around the country, and I’m proud to be working in a bipartisan manner to make that happen. I will continue fighting for Oregonians and supporting legislation that brings us closer to ending hunger in Oregon and beyond.”

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, others senators co-sponsoring the bill introduced by U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Robert Casey (D-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Rafael Warnock (D-GA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Carper (D-DE), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Angus King (I-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

Anti-hunger and nutrition advocates reiterated the importance of these flexibilities and applauded the bill to keep critical flexibilities for school nutrition programs to feed children.

“School meal programs, a crucial source of nutritional support for millions of families nationwide, face tremendous immediate and long-term challenges in the absence of these child nutrition waivers,” said Beth Wallace, president of the School Nutrition Association. “Acute supply chain disruptions, persistent labor shortages and escalating costs make it impossible for these programs to return to normal operations next school year. This legislation is absolutely critical to sustaining school meal programs, ensuring children have access to nutritious school meals and preventing substantial financial losses for schools nationwide.”

“Without Congressional action, the child nutrition waivers will end on June 30, 2022, causing millions of children to face a hunger cliff when they lose access to summer and school meals. Furthermore, schools and community-based organizations that feed our nation’s children need time to recover from the impact of the pandemic,” said Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center. “We applaud Senator Stabenow for her leadership on this issue and strongly endorse this bill which would extend waiver authority through September 30, 2023. Hungry children can’t wait.” 

“The sooner the USDA is authorized to extend child nutrition waivers, the sooner schools and community organizations can plan meal programs for summer and next school year,” said Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. “Schools and community meal providers continue to face extreme pandemic-related challenges like supply chain disruptions, rising food prices and staffing shortages. Without waivers, they will have a difficult time responding to these challenges in real-time, impacting their ability to safely and effectively reach kids with the nutrition they need and stunting their ability to transition to normal operations as those challenges subside.”

“Nearly 12 million children struggle to know where their next meal will come from, disrupting their ability to reach their full potential. Fortunately, child nutrition waivers have helped provide year-round access to much-needed nutrition. If the waivers aren’t extended, millions of children will lose that access, with Black, Latino, and Native American children, and children in rural areas, being hit hardest,” said Vince Hall, chief government relations officer, Feeding America. “Because of the delay in extending the waivers, some site sponsors will have to close summer and after-school meal sites, translating to taking away meals that families are relying on to keep their kids nourished. Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, applauds the introduction of this bill to extend child nutrition waivers, continuing this critical lifeline for children. We urge Congress to act immediately to ensure our children don’t face hunger this summer and beyond.”

A broad spectrum of groups sent in letters to Congress to extend the child nutrition waiver authority. Letters included:

A web version of this release is here.