RELEASE: 48 Bipartisan Members of Congress Call for Extension of School Breakfast and Lunch for Students in Upcoming Government Budget Vote

Washington, D.C., September 15, 2022
 

Above: Reps. Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) and Katie Porter (CA-45) join with national nutrition and education advocates to push to extend school meals for kids nationwide.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, September 15, 2022, a bipartisan group of 48 Members of Congress — led by Representatives Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), Katie Porter (CA-45), and Abigail Spanberger (VA-7) — wrote to congressional leadership and called for an extension of federally-provided school breakfast and lunch for students in the upcoming government budget vote. Taking this action will help ensure that no student goes through their school day without the meals they need to succeed. Nationwide, the extension of this critical program would help feed an estimated 10 million students in need. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) authority to grant waivers to provide school breakfast and lunch for all nationwide. Additionally, Congress extended school meals for all in the Keep Kids Fed Act through Summer 2022. Now, with the expiration of the Keep Kids Fed Act as the 2022-2023 school year begins, millions of children have now lost access to school provided meals.

Under the current red-tape-laced bureaucratic system, there are many kids on the cusp of the federal threshold who would still go hungry in school. Nationwide, the administrative costs of analyzing these calculations and processing can cost school districts up to $100,000 a year — more than a billion dollars nationwide.

Studies show that 3 out of 4 public school teachers say students regularly come to school hungry. Of those educators who see hunger regularly, 81% say it happens at least once a week. Hunger in the classroom leads to a decreased ability to focus, decreased physical activity, stomach aches, headaches, depression, and anxiety.

“As the 2022-2023 school year begins, millions of children will lose access to school provided meals. We have a responsibility to ensure that no child goes hungry. We urge you to include funding for school meals for all in the next continuing resolution to fulfill the nutritional needs of our children and lower costs for our families,” the Members wrote in a letter today to Speaker Pelosi, House Minority Leader McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Schumer, and Senate Minority Leader McConnell. “We cannot allow another day to pass by without providing for our hungry children. There is nothing partisan about this — feeding our children is key to our long-term competitiveness as a nation. We have a unique window of opportunity to ensure that no child goes unfed. Providing school meals for all K-12 students is a proven, commonsense way to help children succeed, and it will cut costs for our families who are currently facing higher prices.”

The signatory list of 48 bipartisan Members includes Reps. Gottheimer (NJ-5), Porter (CA-45), Spanberger (VA-7), Auchincloss (MA-4), Axne (IA-3), Barragán (CA-44), Brown (MD-4), Brownley (CA-26), Carbajal (CA-24), Cárdenas (CA-29), Casten (IL-6), Correa (CA-46), Costa (CA-16), DeSaulnier (CA-11), Fitzpatrick (PA-1), González-Colón (PR-At Large), Hayes (CT-5), Jacobs (CA-53), Jones (NY-17), Khanna (CA-17), Larson (CT-1), Lawson (FL-5), Lee (NV-3), Lofgren (CA-19), Malinowski (NJ-7), Matsui (CA-6), McGovern (MA-3), Meng (NY-6), Morelle (NY-25), Napolitano (CA-32), O’Halleran (AZ-1), Panetta (CA-20), Payne (NJ-10), Phillips (MN-3), Pingree (ME-1), Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Ruiz (CA-36), Sanchez (CA-38), Schrier (WA-8), Scott (GA-13), Sherrill (NJ-11), Sires (NJ-8), Soto (FL-9), Stevens (MI-11), Suozzi (NY-3), Vargas (CA-51), Watson Coleman (NJ-12), and Welch (VT-At-large).

Gottheimer, Porter, and other Members of Congress held a press conference today to push to extend this school meals program alongside nutrition and education advocates. Find support from the National Education Association (NEA), the School Nutrition Association (SNA), Hunger Free America, Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Eat Right) below.

“All our students — no matter what they look like, where they come from or where they live — deserve access to the resources needed to grow and thrive. Free, healthy, and nutritious meals for all students preserve this vision by keeping students’ bellies full so their minds can learn. In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government provided waivers that allowed schools to offer healthy meals to all students for free. We urge Congress to continue this program this school year as school food service professionals work to provide nutritious meals under difficult circumstances and many families continue to struggle with changing economic circumstances. No child should go hungry at any school in our country,” said National Education Association (NEA) President Becky Pringle.

“Hungry children shouldn’t have to worry about whether they have enough lunch money or whether their family filled out the proper paperwork – all children deserve equal access to school meals,” said School Nutrition Association President Lori Adkins, MS, SNS, CHE. “Research shows students eat their healthiest meals at school, making school meals a smart investment to support children’s health and academic success. School Nutrition Association strongly supports this effort to offer all students free meals as part of their education,” said School Nutrition Association (SNA) President Lori Adkins.

“Good nutrition is critical for both child health and educational performance. To be schooled, you must be fueled. To be well read, you must be well fed. Extending the school meals waivers is a critical step we need to take to ensure that good nutrition continues, particularly in suburban and rural areas,” said Joel Berg, CEO, Hunger Free America, a nationwide direct service and advocacy nonprofit group.

“School meals are an important tool to address child hunger in our nation. And as families deal with increased inflation and other lingering economic impacts of the pandemic, many more children will need this critical resource this year,” said Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President of Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign. “But there's a real concern right now that kids will miss out on the meals they need. Extending free school meals for all children through this academic year will go a long way in ensuring no child slips through the cracks.”

“Free school meals for all are a game changer in fueling children's health and learning, and stretching family budgets,” said Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center. “We can't turn back now. FRAC urges Congress to extend free school meals to all students for the current school year.”

“Healthy school meals for children are as important to learning as textbooks and pencils. Thank you to Representatives Gottheimer and Porter for leading the effort to extend universal school meals for the rest of this school year. Given the pandemic’s impact on children’s health and price of healthy foods due to inflation, now is the time to double down on programs that will ensure that children have access to healthy food at school,” said Liz Campbell, MA, RDN, the Senior Director of Legislative and Government Affairs for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below:

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Speaker
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC  20515
 
The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
Minority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC  20515
 
The Honorable Chuck Schumer
Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC  20510
 
The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Minority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC  20510 
 
Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, Leader McCarthy, and Leader McConnell: 
 
We thank you for your extraordinary leadership in bringing our colleagues together to pass the Keep Kids Fed Act this summer to invest in our children and families. As the 2022-2023 school year begins, millions of children will lose access to school provided meals. We have a responsibility to ensure that no child goes hungry. We urge you to include funding for school meals for all in the next continuing resolution to fulfill the nutritional needs of our children and lower costs for our families.
 
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) authority to grant waivers to provide school meals for all. Congress extended school meals for all in the Keep Kids Fed Act through Summer 2022, moving quickly to support children and preserve flexibilities for summer meals. 
 
However, these waivers have now reverted back to pre-pandemic policies, increasing red tape, administrative costs, and stigmas for children, families, and school districts. The administrative burden associated with delivering restricted school meals would be better spent providing meals for all children and ensuring that every child has the fuel they need to succeed in school. We know that children who are hungry have a decreased ability to focus, decreased physical activity, stomach aches, headaches, depression, and anxiety. There is every reason to support this critical measure, so that students can learn with a clear mind, healthy body, and better chance of a successful school day.  
 
Nationwide, providing greater access to school meals would help feed an estimated 10 million students who would have previously not qualified — helping make life more affordable for families. Additionally, school districts spend, on average, $100,000 a year on administrative costs related to the federal school meals program. Funding school meals and eliminating red tape and bureaucracy can help feed many children on the cusp of the federal threshold, while also supporting teachers and school staff who know their students best.
 
We cannot allow another day to pass by without providing for our hungry children. There is nothing partisan about this — feeding our children is key to our long-term competitiveness as a nation.
 
We have a unique window of opportunity to ensure that no child goes unfed. Providing school meals for all K-12 students is a proven, commonsense way to help children succeed, and it will cut costs for our families who are currently facing higher prices. We strongly urge you to prioritize funding for school meals for all in the next continuing resolution. 
 
Sincerely,
 
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS

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