Among the many causes the federal government funneled money into during the pandemic was school lunches, and it will continue to do so until the end of the month.
Changes to the program are raising alarm bells for some Michigan officials. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said the U.S. Department of Agriculture did a fantastic job last spring by getting food to needy children.
She said the department waived rules and spent money to make it easier for children to get meals. But now, she’s angry that the department is about to slash that spending.
“I don’t know why they have decided that they’re going to stop providing access to critical food for children, but at the moment, that is their decision and we are calling on them to use the flexibility Congress gave them,” Stabenow said. “We didn’t take any of it away. They still have it.”
Michigan’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Michael Rice, emphatically opposes the changes.
“This is going to have a very harmful effect on our children and families who are already struggling during the pandemic,” Rice said. “To limit the necessary feeding of children at any time is reprehensible. In a pandemic, it is an outrage.”
They’re referencing the 80 million meals given out since spring nationwide. The waiver system put in place by the Department of Agriculture made it so parents could go to one place and pick up food for their children a week at a time.
When the waivers end, parents will have to go to each child’s school and can only get five days of food.
Stabenow said she hopes the changes aren’t linked to President Donald Trump’s desire to send children back to the classroom.
“I know there’s obviously a big push to have kids go back to school, and I sure would hate to think that something like holding access to food over their heads would be used in that process,” Stabenow said.
Secretary of Agriculture responds
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued the following statement in response to Stabenow’s statements:
“Senator Stabenow’s statements today on USDA’s school meal feeding programs are disingenuous and either unintentionally or maliciously false. Since the very beginning of the pandemic, the only agenda USDA has had, is to issue unprecedented waivers to ensure all children across this nation continue to receive nutritious meals, free of charge. Appropriations that Congress funded in the CARES Act were anticipated for school meal waivers to continue through the end of June 2020. After assessing the school reopening situation nationwide, and the funding availability, USDA extended the availability of school meals waivers with flexibilities through September 30, 2020. We have been and are continually calculating remaining appropriated funds to determine how far we may be able to provide waivers into the future. It is hypocritical for a sitting U.S. Senator to launch these fear-mongering accusations when she herself knows or should have known Congress did not authorize enough funding for the entire 2020-2021 school year. USDA is in constant communication with both majority and minority staff informing them of our fiscal balances. Since our school systems usually have 60 days of lag time in reporting usage, this calculation assumes some degree of projection. However, as an administrative agency, and not an appropriator, we are obligated to not spend more than is appropriated under penalty of law.”