Photo Courtesy of the Center for Ecoliteracy

Schools Should Feed All Children During A Pandemic

As someone who cares deeply about feeding all of California’s 3.2 million children free, delicious, and healthy school meals, I’m pleased to see that many California lawmakers are calling on the Trump administration to explain why it would risk millions of children going hungry during an unprecedented pandemic and economic recession.

In a letter penned to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 45 California lawmakers are desperately seeking continued flexibility from federal lawmakers to continue feeding millions of students free meals via waivers. Ninety percent of California students are expected to continue distance learning in the coming week, but without continued flexibility schools will be unable to provide meals and snacks to all children under 18 years old during the pandemic.

As one of the most developed and well-resourced nations in the world, why haven’t we figured out how to feed all students during a time of such tremendous and sweeping need? The USDA should make this simple, and immediately extend all waivers that help schools to serve universal free meals.

In a letter to the USDA, California lawmakers said:

“We personally, and on behalf of the many schools and young students in our districts, are asking the USDA and this administration to extend the following waivers which create much-needed flexibility and remove barriers to serving meals in a time of unprecedented hunger and economic uncertainty, both in California and across the nation. We add our voices to those calling for actions that protect our children from hunger, improve educational outcomes, and ensure good health.”

The letter, signed by more than a third of California’s state legislature, calls specifically to:

  • Continue providing school meals to all students during the pandemic;
  • Make it easier for school districts to provide after school meals and snacks; and
  • Extend relevant waivers so any participating school can continue to provide fresh fruits and vegetables.

Unfortunately, the USDA has shown its reluctance to act, instead choosing to punt to Congress. A USDA spokesperson recently told the publication, the Counter, that it needs support from Congress to continue reimbursing schools for free food: “[USDA] has to be certain that funding is available before we provide further flexibilities and extensions. USDA stands ready to implement any additional authorities and flexibilities Congress provides.”

Democratic lawmakers have already submitted proposals that would authorize universal free meals during the pandemic. One such proposal from as far back as October of 2019, put forward by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ilhan Omar, would have created universal free meals for every student in America, before the pandemic began.

I recently spoke with Adam Kesselman, Executive Director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, whose California Food for California Kids® initiative supports a growing network of 89 public school districts across the state. He says he’s been fielding calls from Child Nutrition Services Directors throughout the state.

The message from the ground is clear: without the waivers and flexibility in place, it will be very challenging for families to access meals.