Warner, Kaine lead effort to ensure food for kids in distance learning

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Members of Virginia’s congressional delegation are working to ensure that children in Virginia have access to healthy foods while participating in distance learning from home.

U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with U.S. Reps. Robert Wittman (R-VA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), sent a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to request that USDA extend and approve a number of waiver requests made by the Commonwealth of Virginia that would help deliver food to Virginia children.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced school districts across the country to adopt online and distance-learning models in order to continue educational instruction for students. This shift, while necessary, has disrupted the ability of many students to receive consistent access to healthy meals. For many children, the breakfasts and lunches they receive at school may be the only healthy and regular meals they receive during the week,” wrote the members of Congress. “In light of the unprecedented challenges faced by school districts in Virginia and across the country, we request that USDA extend the following waivers to ensure school districts have the certainty they need to continue providing students with healthy and nutritious meals.”

Throughout the pandemic, Virginia’s 132 school divisions have continued to provide meals for students through a number of meal service options. However, this shift has increased costs for schools, who are also facing decreased revenues due to diminished levels of participation in meal programs, as well as increased costs related to the need for more shelf-stable foods, packaging, and personal protective equipment. Specifically, participation in the school breakfast program has decreased by 35 percent and the number of school lunches served has dropped by 60 percent.

In order to ensure the uninterrupted and safe distribution of meals to Virginia’s students, the members of Congress requested that USDA extend waivers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) until at least June 30, 2021 so that all students can have safe and efficient access to breakfast and lunch. The members of Congress also asked for an extension of the Area Eligibility waiver, which would continue to allow school districts to provide nutritious meals to all students regardless of their ability to pay, as well as increase critically-needed reimbursements to school divisions and eliminate burdensome paperwork requirements that affect the ability of schools to provide meals to students.

In their letter, the members of Congress also urged USDA to approve the following outstanding waiver requests from the Virginia Office of School Nutrition Programs:

  • A waiver to extend the cycle of administrative reviews for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the At Risk Portion of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) for all school districts from once during a three-year period to once every five years to allow flexibility to plan during the pandemic.
  • A waiver to eliminate the requirement that afterschool programs must have an educational or enrichment activity with the service of meals.
  • A waiver to eliminate the requirement that potable water be available or accessible to children during meal service during breakfast in the cafeteria and lunch.

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