When schools closed in March, school nutrition programs continued to serve meals. The USDA, who oversees Child Nutrition Programs, have approved waivers to allow for some flexibility but the waivers must be further be approved by the state the school resides in. Congress must approve support to these vital program to not only ensure this safety net will continue, but to also protect already battered school district budgets.
- Provide additional funding for school nutrition programs. While schools have been closed, the Governor’s office mandated school districts to continue to provide meals to children. Since closures, schools are providing a vital safety nutritional safety net to the community in the form of emergency meals. In addition to the lost revenue the regular school meals, they are incurring costs above and beyond their regular operational costs to serve emergency meals. Many are paying transportation costs due to having to deliver meals to families who can not travel, this includes bus driver wages, fuel, and vehicle expenses. They are paying their employees hazard pay, some paying time and half or a flat per hour dollar amount. They have had to purchase additional equipment such as transportation supplies (thermal bins, coolers, packaging equipment) as well as supplies such as plastic bags and containers required to keep food safe from contamination. Even though the USDA has provided a waiver for menu flexibility, Child Nutrition programs continue to strive to serve a balanced, healthy meal made of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins. Strains on supply chains have made some food items more expense. Covered more in #3, schools are having to purchase PPE, which is costly and was not planned for in the budget. Further, schools who are not serving emergency meals are still required to pay Child Nutrition employees, just like they are with teachers. Funding for Child Nutrition programs comes directly from the number of meals served. California has provided emergency funding to schools but it is not enough to cover the loss of revenue from school meals as well as the additional costs. California does have a Disaster Relief option, however, it is normally only used for one or two days when a school is forced to close for such episodic disasters such as environmental, bad weather, or fire.
- Extend the Pandemic EBT program through the summer. Families accessing the P-EBT program will no longer have the pressure of traveling to an emergency meal distribution site, use the funds to pay for dinner meals (most schools are providing breakfast and lunch), or weekend meals. With unemployment approaching 25%-30% in some regions, the need will continue through the summer.
- Provide Personal Protective Equipment to Child Nutrition workers and volunteers who are serving emergency meals. The struggle to source and purchase PPE has been well documented. Some Nutrition Services employees are exposed to hundreds of children and families every serve day, while many are in the high risk age group. Schools need support in sourcing and paying for PPE.