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The $3 billion package, which would extend through the 2022-23 school year, would allow students eligible for reduced-price meals to receive free meals.

Senate sends school meal waiver bill back to House for revisions

The Senate has sent the school meal waiver extension bill back to the House of Representatives after failing to pas a bill with the same provisions.

After the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Keep Kids Fed Act incorporating compromises reached by a bipartisan group of Representatives and Senators on June 23, the U.S. Senate was unable to follow up later that evening, with the bill reportedly blocked by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, who wants the reduced price category eliminated in the House bill restored, per NPR.

Previously, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (VA-03) and Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (NC-05), along with Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) had reached an agreement on the Keep Kids Fed Act, which would provide funding and flexibility for communities to provide children healthy meals this summer and provide support to schools and daycares to respond to supply chain challenges and high food costs for the coming school year. The School Nutrition Association (SNA) had praised the agreement and urged Congress to pass it to provide critical support to school meal programs prior to the expiration of federal pandemic waivers on June 30.

The $3 billion package, which would extend through the 2022-23 school year, would allow students eligible for reduced-price meals to receive free meals; increase federal reimbursements for every school lunch by 40 cents and every school breakfast by 15 cents, above the annual inflationary adjustment scheduled for July 1; extend no-cost waivers, including those for schools unable to meet nutrition standards due to supply chain disruptions and to reduce administrative and reporting burdens; and extend waivers for 2022 summer meal programs. It would not, however, extend the universal free meals temporarily enacted during the COVID pandemic, meaning students would have to meet family income qualifications for free meals, as the House bill requires, or free or reduced-price meals, as the Senate is now asking.

“School nutrition professionals have withstood crippling supply chain breakdowns, rising prices and labor shortages in their efforts to provide students healthy meals, at a time when families are struggling with higher costs,” comments SNA President Beth Wallace. "With crucial federal waivers on the verge of expiring, this agreement offers school meal programs a lifeline to help build back toward normal operations." 

According to SNA, members have reported an ongoing struggle to obtain sufficient food and supplies for their programs as manufacturers discontinue products ranging from low-sodium chicken breasts to low-fat milk cartons and yogurt cups. They also cited shortages of as many as 150-200 menu items per order, which send short-staffed school nutrition teams scrambling to secure healthy menu substitutions for their students, and school nutrition directors across the country report unprecedented price increases, including a 280% increase in the cost of a case of gloves and 137% increase on whole grain bread. 

 “SNA appreciates ongoing efforts of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to address persistent supply chain challenges and USDA’s commitment to avert penalties for schools unable to comply with meal pattern requirements due to these disruptions,” said Wallace. “We will continue to work with USDA next school year as we seek solutions to support school nutrition professionals and ensure the financial sustainability of meal programs for the students they serve.”

Update, June 23, 2022: This story has been updated to reflect that the act passed in the House.

Update, June 24, 2022: This story has been updated to reflect that the Senate has passed the act back to the House for revision.

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