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September 1, 2020

Massachusetts Lawmakers Hail USDA Decision to Extend School Nutrition Waivers Through December

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA),  and Representatives James P. McGovern (MA-02), William Keating (MA-09), Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-04), Katherine Clark (MA-05), Seth Moulton (MA-06), and Lori Trahan (MA-03) hailed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to extend school nutrition waivers that were set to expire on August 31st through December 2020. The waivers allow school districts and community organizations the flexibility to provide students nutritious meals at convenient locations, and have been vital in preventing a surge in childhood hunger amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this summer, the entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation sent a letter to the USDA urging the agency to extend the waivers for the entire 2020-21 school year. Reps. Pressley, Lynch and Senators Warren, Markey and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh reiterated these calls in statements issued last month.

“No family should go hungry, let alone in the midst of a national crisis. I’m heartened and relieved that the USDA has changed course,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “The USDA’s updated decision to extend school nutrition waivers through December is a victory for every child and family in our country and every advocate working to address food security. USDA’s initial refusal to extend these waivers, which provide free meals for all students at convenient locations, would have left millions of children across the country facing stark food insecurity as the new school year begins. Since the start of the pandemic, I have weighed in repeatedly with the USDA, urging them to use the authority and funding that Congress has allocated ensure children have access to nutritious food during these difficult economic times. While their reversal today is a welcome victory for thousands of children in the Massachusetts 7th district, our work is far from over. My colleagues and I will continue pushing Department of Agriculture Secretary Perdue to extend these waivers for the entirety of the 2020-21 school year, and will continue working to ensure every child has reliable access to nutritious meals throughout this pandemic and long after.” 

“I’m glad the USDA responded to our call to extend more flexible school nutrition waivers through the end of the year,” said Senator Warren. “This will help schools and communities meet their students’ basic needs, and we urge the USDA keep going and expand full flexibility for the duration of the pandemic.”

“School nutrition programs are a vital lifeline for vulnerable families, especially so during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Senator Markey. “Congress authorized USDA to waive requirements so that state leaders could respond nimbly to this crisis. I am pleased USDA has finally extended these waivers, but will continue to fight to ensure poor families have the support they need for as long as this crisis persists.”

“No child in this country — the richest country in the history of the world — should ever go hungry or face food insecurity. School meals are as essential to a child’s ability to develop and learn. I believe they are every bit as important as a textbook or a laptop when it comes to a child’s ability to learn. While I’m heartened by the administration’s decision to extend school nutrition waivers through December, there were tens of millions of Americans who were hungry in this country even before the pandemic, and we must keep fighting to make food insecurity the national issue it deserves to be,” said Congressman Jim McGovern. “I’m proud of the leadership and the partnership of our entire delegation on this key issue. This is a big win for children and families in the Second District, and just as importantly, it’s an example that public pressure works.”

“Providing meals to students should never be up for debate,” said Congressman Bill Keating. “I welcome today’s extension of school nutrition waivers through the end of the calendar year, but will continue to fight for extensions that last at least through the end of this school year. We must do everything we can to support the incredible efforts of food service directors in every school district working tirelessly to accommodate changing deadlines, guidelines, and individual students’ situations to keep food on the table for students and families.”

“In the wealthiest nation on earth, our children should not be hungry – not during a pandemic, not ever,” said Congressman Kennedy. “While I’m glad the USDA has extended this waiver, we must do far more to ensure our kids get the nutrition and food assistance they need.”

“At a time when childhood hunger has doubled in our state over just a few short months, cutting off relief is simply not an option,” said Congresswoman Clark. “I’m relieved that USDA listened to our concerns and extended its school nutrition waivers for Massachusetts through the end of the year. This step must now be followed with even stronger measures to ensure that all our children and families get the nutritious food they need both during and long after the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

“This pandemic is tough for everyone. Imagine how much scarier this is for the kids in our community who don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Congressman Moulton. “Kids are used to the consistency school provides. Even with all the uncertainty surrounding this school year, by guaranteeing that kids counting on school lunch can get a meal, we can create some certainty.”

“Thousands of children across the Third District rely on school meals to make it through the school day – whether in the classroom or at home. This decision will provide families with  flexible access to meals they need as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create instability. Now, we must get the administration to extend these waivers through the end of the school year to prevent the same uncertainty for families this December,” said Congresswoman Trahan.

At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in March, Rep. Pressley and the entire Massachusetts delegation successfully urged the USDA to enact school nutrition waivers to ensure no student lost access to nutritious meals when schools shifted to remote learning.  In July, Reps. Pressley and McGovern led more than 20 lawmakers from across the Northeast in calling on the USDA to equitably distribute relief funding meant to prevent food insecurity.

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