With popular school lunch program in danger, Davis urges Congressional action

Says kids’ lunches should not be political bargaining chips

McKEESPORT, March 17 – With working families having to make hard decisions with family budgets, state Rep. Austin Davis, D-Allegheny, has introduced bipartisan legislation calling on Congress to extend critical federal school meal waivers through the 2022-23 school year in an effort to ensure every child continues to have access to nutritional meals at school, regardless of Zip Code or socioeconomic status.

“At a time when family budgets are tighter than ever, it is disappointing that Republicans in Washington D.C. are using children’s school meals as bargaining chips and that this program was not re-authorized in the spending bill that was passed last week,” said Davis, who noted his resolution, H.R. 185, has garnered bipartisan support in the state House of Representatives. “This program has been universally popular with families, and if you ask a parent of a school-age child, they’ll probably tell you it was one of the best things to come out of the last two years. That is why my colleagues and I are calling on Congress to do the right thing and make sure every child has access to a nutritional meal.”

Since COVID-19 closed schools in March 2020, federal waivers have allowed school nutrition programs to become more flexible and receive greater reimbursements to serve free meals to all students. It is estimated that nationwide, more than 30 million children have benefited from the program.

The USDA is estimating that without the waivers school meal funding could decrease by more than 40% for an average school district. According to Feeding Pennsylvania, more than 443,000 children in Pennsylvania are at risk of hunger, and school feeding programs play a critical role in ensuring that all young people have the food they need to grow and thrive. 

“As it stands, schools and communities are in a state of uncertainty,” said Jane Clements, chief executive officer of Feeding Pennsylvania. “As they work to provide food for children daily, they need continued flexibilities to safely plan for and offer summer meal programs and nutrition assistance during the next school year. Congress can and should provide these schools and community providers with peace of mind by extending waiver authority in upcoming legislation. These waivers offer stability, predictability and an assurance that children will get the meals they need any time of the year.”

According to media reports, the waivers were initially included in the federal omnibus spending bill that was voted on last week, but were removed during negotiations. Davis urged Pennsylvanians to contact the state’s congressional delegation and join him in urging for the program’s extension before it is too late.

“For too many children, school meals are their only stable source of nutrition, and at a time when the price of everything from a loaf of bread to a gallon of gas is on the increase, allowing this program to end could be devastating for families,” Davis said. “Making sure kids can eat a basic nutritional meal should not be a budgetary luxury – it is basic moral necessity and one well within the reach of our nation.”