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Families Drowning in the Waves of Waivers

What is up with waivers? School meals have given children an anti-hunger, nutrition security lifeline for decades. They are so common across the United States that when the pandemic hit, the first place community members looked for help was their local school cafeteria. At first, it was total chaos. Nothing like this had ever happened and no one knew how quickly families would experience food insecurity, seeking assistance through the school nutrition programs. Delivery service models changed overnight with supply chain and staffing challenges close behind. If a truck came, there was no guarantee of what was on it, or if you would have the staff to check it in and/or prepare the food to serve. Added to that, for the safety of children and the school staff, children could not come to serving sites daily.

Even with all of these challenges staring the school nutrition team in the face, they used their expertise and ingenuity to come up with a way to meet most nutritional requirements, pack correct portion sizes and even incorporate instructions for preparation into weekly food boxes for families. They were and still are heroes in every sense of the word, exposing themselves to COVID without self-concern because they knew the children in their care needed to eat. With the help of USDA and advocacy groups across this country, Congress gave the authority to the Secretary of USDA to grant a variety of waivers to make sure schools could not only send food home for students, but still get reimbursed for the meals. This included a higher reimbursement rate to cover some of the increasing costs in providing this necessary service. Finally a break – allowing schools to serve their communities during this crisis.

Exhaustion over the last two years has taken its toll and now everyone wants things to get back to “normal”. What is normal? Today it is hybrid school schedules, regular supply chain challenges, more families that qualify for meal assistance who have never filled out an application for anything in the past, and at least 30% of school food service staff vacancies. These are the current challenges in school nutrition, only due to the fact that Congress has refused to extend these waivers for one more year. Families across America will be drowning in the wave of no waivers. Everyone needs one more year to reset. One more year to sort out supply chain issues, one more year to make sure families are back on their feet financially, and one more year to ensure students living on the brink of poverty are not left to fend for themselves. To one of the richest countries in the world, with one of the most plentiful and safe food supplies – what is there to think about?

On June 30, 2022, thousands of children will fall off the cliff of hunger security. Families will be confused as to why food is no longer available to their children, schools will carry the burden and fall out of the community’s favor for cutting the services so desperately needed by children. This is nothing more than a political move – a huge wave created by a few lawmakers that want to use it to reposition blame on others for the issues created by the pandemic. Congress needs to dive in and throw children the life jacket. Calm the sea of challenges for families across this country – extend child nutrition waivers through June 2023.

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