WASHINGTON — Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Representative Ilhan Omar (MN-05), whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, issued the following statement on the House passage of the Keep Kids Fed Act, legislation to extend the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s waiver authority to provide school meals for millions of children across the country:
“No child in the richest country in the world should go hungry. We are thrilled that the House of Representatives once again stepped up to extend school meal waivers. The USDA waivers provided essential flexibility for families to get food, and to ensure schools can keep providing nutritious meals for children across the country — as many as 10 million children received free breakfast and lunch each day under this program. While those waivers were scheduled to expire this month, the need has not. Especially given the inflated cost of food and the continuing challenges of COVID, we cannot allow 95 million meals to be missed by kids this summer. The impact of this program has been unequivocal: 95 percent of school nutrition staff reported the waivers helped reduce child hunger, 89 percent said they eased the burden on parents and guardians, and 82 percent said they support academic achievement.
“That data shows us why school meals have been the lifeblood of working class communities for decades: hungry kids can’t learn. House Democrats have acted decisively to protect children’s health and keep meals affordable. With promising bipartisan consensus emerging in the Senate to extend these waivers, we urge the upper chamber to quickly pass the House bill and send it to the President’s desk without delay. Going forward, Congress should enact the Universal School Meals Program Act to make nutrition support permanent and ensure our children never face an emergency hunger cliff again. No family should be punished for needing to rely on school meals to get their kids the food they need — and we have the legislative tools to make they don’t ever again.”
The bill passed today comes after aggressive advocacy from the Progressive Caucus to address the issue immediately, and builds on legislation from CPC members. In March 2020, Representative Omar introduced and passed the MEALS Act, a bill that directly authorized these school meal waivers and protected students’ access to school meal benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. Representatives Omar, Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), and James McGovern (MA-02) also introduced and led the passage of the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act, which increased the flexibility and availability of school meals so that children who rely on the meals had access to them even as schools were closed. Representatives Omar and Gwen Moore (WI-04), along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), introduced the Universal School Meals Program Act to permanently provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack to all school children regardless of income, eliminate school meal debt, and strengthen local economies by incentivizing local food procurement.