The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announcement today to extend free meals for kids through Dec. 31st is welcome news, but a far cry from what’s needed to help vulnerable children and their families as we navigate this pandemic.
While California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA) applauds the announcement to extend the availability of free meals, for many the decision is too little and too late. Because of USDA’s prolonged inaction, critical waivers expired and schools across California were forced to upend the way they offer meals to children. Now, with this belated decision from USDA, schools face yet another complicated change to how they operate meal programs. Schools will also have to communicate new program rules to kids and families, many of whom have already been told they wouldn’t qualify for free meals once the school year started. And of course, if USDA doesn’t extend the waivers beyond December, schools, kids, and families will face yet another challenging transition.
We are calling on federal leaders to stop the piecemeal decision making and authorize the program flexibilities that will allow children to access free meals for the rest of this unpredictable, unprecedented school year.
Children at risk of hunger and food insecurity should not have a deadline looming over their heads. Schools should not have to jump through hoops of bureaucratic red tape just to meet the most basic needs of children in their community.
Research and common sense tell us that children need consistent access to nutritious meals in order to learn, grow, and thrive at their full potential. With one in five California children living in poverty and with the vast majority of California school campuses closed due to the pandemic, we want assurances that meal programs will be allowed to effectively, efficiently serve children. The COVID-19 crisis does not have to be a crisis of childhood hunger.
How You can Help
Share your appreciation with your members of congress for weighing in with USDA. California’s congressional delegation helped press USDA for these critical school meal flexibilities. Let them know that while you appreciate USDA’s action, if school meal waivers are not extended through next school year California’s children stand to lose. Ask for a robust federal coronavirus package that supports California’s families, and consistent access to nutritious meals.