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June 16, 2022

With Food Insecurity on the Rise, Pressley Renews Call for Extension of School Meal Flexibilities

USDA’s Nutrition Waivers, Which Have Fed Millions of Children, Set to Expire on June 30 

Floor Speech (YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) delivered remarks on the House floor in which she renewed her call for Congress to extend the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) child nutrition waiver authority, which has allowed millions of children in Massachusetts and across the nation to access free and healthy school meals during the pandemic. The current waiver authority is set to expire on June 30 amid obstruction from Senate Republicans. 

Last month, Rep. Pressley, along with Congressman James P. McGovern (MA-02) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13), wrote to Congressional leadership urging an extension of the USDA’s authority. At the onset of the pandemic, Rep. Pressley was successful in urging the USDA to utilize school nutrition flexibilities to ensure no student lost access to nutritious meals when schools shifted to remote learning, and she has led her colleagues in repeatedly urging USDA to extend school nutrition waivers through the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

A full transcript of Rep. Pressley’s floor remarks is available below and the full video is available here.

Transcript: With Food Insecurity on the Rise, Pressley Renews Call for Extension of School Meal Waivers
U.S. House of Representatives

June 15, 2022

Madam Speaker, throughout the Massachusetts 7th and across the nation, families are facing unprecedented levels of food insecurity.

I’m reminded of the words of Coretta Scott King, who said, “Starving a child is violence. Neglecting school children is violence.”

And we can, in fact, do something about this violence. 

Picking up on the words of Congressman McGovern, a global champion in the fight against hunger and food insecurity, when he said “we should stop managing problems and solve them.”

This is a solvable problem.

A recent survey by the Greater Boston Food Bank found that nearly two million adults across the Commonwealth struggled to get enough to eat last year. And it was Black, Latino and LGBTQ people and families with children that were most likely to struggle.

No one should know hunger. No parent should know the heartache of putting their baby to sleep with an empty belly. 

Our communities were already in the midst of a hunger crisis—one that we knew would be exacerbated by the pandemic.

In response, my Congressional colleagues and I acted to provide critical resources and flexibilities to support schools and communities in serving and meeting the needs of families and children in need.

Schools across the nation were able to keep school meal programs afloat while providing free meals to an additional ten million students each day.

Boston Public Schools—the largest school district in my district—was able to serve over 330,000 students with free breakfasts and lunches across all city neighborhoods.

For many families, these meals were the only reliable source of nutrition throughout the day. 

They were a saving grace—a lifeline—for families across my district and across the nation, Madam Speaker.

And in less than two weeks, these school lunch flexibilities are set to expire. 

We must act with urgency to avoid a hunger cliff that will fall hardest on our most vulnerable children.

We must act to avoid a scenario where children will face the loss of 95 million meals over the course of the summer alone.

States and Districts have been sounding the alarm.

It was these calls from community that prompted my colleagues Representatives McGovern, Lee and I to send an urgent letter to House and Senate leaders—one month ago now—urging them to do everything in their power to extend these essential lifelines.

Senate Minority Leader McConnell continues to block efforts to get this done. It is shameful, yet unsurprising. 

In one of the richest nations in the world, it is an absolute disgrace that millions of children struggle with food insecurity every single day.

The clock is running out and we have a mandate and a duty to get this done.

To my Republican colleagues, I urge them to join us in getting this done. 

Children and families, school district leaders across the nation, simply cannot wait.

And once again, I thank my sister in service, Representative Omar for her steadfast leadership, and I yield back.