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Support Grows for Congress to Pass USDA Meals Waiver Bill

LANSING – Support grew today for the U.S. Congress to pass the bipartisan Kids Not Red Tape Act of 2022, introduced by U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, that will extend the USDA school meal flexibilities through September 30, 2023, which Congress has allowed state education agencies and schools throughout the pandemic.

Michigan’s State Board of Education today adopted a resolution supporting the Congressional bill to give schools and families time to adjust as schools return to more normal operations.

“All Michigan students deserve access to quality, affordable food in school so they can stay focused on learning and getting on track for long-term success,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “I am grateful to Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow for working across the aisle and leading the effort to cut red tape and extend the flexibility of the USDA school meal programs through September 2023. By getting this done, we can help families adjust to any potential changes to meal prices and ensure that our kids can stay focused in the classroom.”

Congress has not extended the waiver authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for child nutrition programs beyond June 30, 2022, which has stripped USDA of its previous authority to provide higher meal reimbursement rates, allow all schools to serve free meals to all students, or extend the broad regulatory flexibility on which these programs have relied for the last two years.

“We should make it easier for kids to get the meals they need – not harder,” said Senator Stabenow. “Our bill helps to support schools and meal programs so that they can focus on giving children the healthy meals they need. I am glad to have the Michigan Department of Education as a partner in advocating for our children.”

Without this bill, fewer children in Michigan will have access to meals in schools-- meals that help ensure children are well fed and ready to learn, a key part of Goal 3 of Michigan’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan, to improve the health, safety, and wellness of children.

“Unless Congress acts quickly, school children and families will be hit hard,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice. “In Michigan alone, 100,000 students could eat less this summer than last if Congress does not permit USDA to extend federal waivers. MDE has been working closely with Senator Stabenow and school leaders across the country to make sure all kids have available to them meals that will get them through the summer and next school year. Schools and families need time to rebound from the pandemic.”

In addition, schools will face additional bureaucratic challenges to providing meals to eligible students while still working to address the needs of children coming out of the global pandemic. With labor shortages and food price increases, many districts will likely need to raise paid meal prices, which will create a significant burden for families not qualified for free or reduced-price meals.