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April 05, 2022

Collins, King Join Bipartisan Effort to Support School Meal Flexibilities, Extend Free School Lunches for Children in Maine and Nationwide

The Bill Would Extend School and Summer Meal Flexibilities to Feed Children and Support Program Operators

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) joined a group of 52 Senators—more than half of the Senate – in introducing the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act

The bill, which was authored by U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), would extend USDA school meal flexibilities from June 30, 2022, to September 30, 2023.  These flexibilities have been crucial to feeding children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  With 90% of our schools still facing many challenges as they return to normal operations, these flexibilities give our schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to deal with ongoing food service issues and keep kids fed.  The bill would also help schools transition back to normal meal operations under the National School Lunch Program.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of school meals for tens of thousands of Maine families.  In our state and across the country, schools have done a tremendous job working to support the nutritional needs of students despite the challenges of the pandemic, helping to alleviate hunger and allowing students to focus on their studies,” said Senators Collins and King in a joint statement.  “As we emerge from this public health crisis, it is crucial that children are able to continue enjoying nutritious meals not only during the school year, but in all regions of Maine during the summer as well.  In addition to supporting students and families, many schools in Maine and across the country are short staffed and struggling to manage the added burden of supply chain disruptions. This bill would give our nation’s schools and other meal programs the flexibility they need to continue to serve all students.”

Anti-hunger and nutrition advocates reiterated the importance of these flexibilities and applauded the Senators’ bill to keep critical flexibilities for school nutrition programs to feed children.

“We thank Senators Collins and King for championing the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act so that all Maine children have consistent access to the healthy meals,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin.  “Extending pandemic-related child nutrition waivers through the 2022-23 school year will ensure that children are well fed wherever they are learning, eliminate complicated paperwork, and support schools working to provide nutritious food to students in the face of higher costs and shortages of menu items, supplies, and staff.  This legislation also builds on the work by Governor Mills to provide free school meals for all children in Maine. Our school staff are doing everything they can to support children’s learning and wellbeing and providing children with these meals is essential to that effort.”

“We are so grateful to Senator Collins and Senator King for supporting this important bill,” said Justin Strasburger, Executive Director, Full Plates Full Potential, which is based in Brunswick.  “Without an extension of the critical child nutrition waivers that have expanded food access for kids throughout the pandemic, Maine kids could lose access to as many as 400,000 meals this summer.  While the peaks of the pandemic are hopefully behind us, child nutrition programs continue to struggle with rising food costs, staffing shortages, and supply chain disruptions.  Extending these waivers will provide these programs with a much needed bridge year of support and ensure our kids continue to have consistent access to meals.”

“The end of the Covid Related School Nutrition Waivers would be a grim and catastrophic turn of events for families still struggling to recover from a global pandemic that continues to loom on the fringes, even as Americans are striving to move back to normalcy,” said Jeanne Reilly, Legislative Co-Chair, Maine School Nutrition Association.  “The Support Kids Not Red Tape Waiver Extension Bill offers direct relief for children and their families, protecting the nutritional well-being of children, while supporting school nutrition programs with transition plans as they move back to normal National School Lunch Program operations after the flexibilities end.  The Maine School Nutrition Association is incredibly grateful to both Senator Collins and Senator King for their continued efforts on behalf of our nation’s children.”

A broad spectrum of groups sent in letters to Congress to extend the child nutrition waiver authority, including:

In addition to Senators Collins, King, Stabenow, and Murkowski, the legislation was cosponsored by Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Pat Leahy (D-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Carper (D-DE), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

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