Agudath Israel of America is hailing passage of the Keep Kids Fed Act, bipartisan legislation that will extend school meal waivers through this summer and the coming school year. Agudath Israel strongly supported the waiver program and its extension and worked closely with bill sponsors and allies to move the bill through Congress.
The school waivers were put into effect during the COVID-19 pandemic to assist families who were reeling from its effects. The waivers, issued by the USDA, provided flexibility and greater relief in school nutrition programs, providing enhanced access to food for millions of children across the country. But, because Congress had not reauthorized the program, it was set to expire at the end of June.
“Like other school communities, yeshiva and Jewish day school children were beneficiaries of this vital program, which proved to be a lifeline to parents struggling through the effects of the pandemic,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s vice president for government affairs and Washington director. “Food insecurity, combined with rising prices for food, gas and labor, continue to plague the nation and there was a compelling need to extend the waivers.”
The Keep Kids Fed Act aims to address these issues. Some highlights of the bill include extending meal flexibility through summer 2022, including options such as meal delivery and grab-and-go. It will also make it easier for schools during the coming academic year to deal with administrative and paperwork burdens. Notably, it will increase the reimbursement rate for breakfasts and lunches under the National School Lunch Program, as well as provide increased reimbursement for expenses of child care and home providers, to help offset increased costs and operating expenses.
It is important to note that states have the option of not applying for any or all of the available waivers.
Earlier versions of the bill extended the ability to serve all students for free. The bill as passed, however, returned the categories to pre-pandemic requirements of free, reduced and paid lunches. This was a concession that disappointed sponsors and supporters of the bill, but one that was necessary to bring the legislation to the Senate floor for passage.
“Agudath Israel expresses our thanks to Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and John Boozman (R-ARK), and Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Virginia Foxx (R-NC), for their leadership on this bill,” noted Rabbi Cohen. “We will continue to work with them and the USDA in ensuring that the program will continue to be a lifeline to American school children and their families.”