Mass. Lawmakers Urge USDA to Fully Reimburse School Districts and After-School Programs Providing Free Meals to Kids During COVID-19 Pandemic

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The following is a media release from Sen. Ed Markey and Sen Elizabeth Warren’s offices. Both were elected by voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve the state in Washington DC in the US Senate. Both are Democrats.

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WASHINGTON DC –  United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), along with Representatives Richard E. Neal, (D-MA-01), James P. McGovern (D-MA-02), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA-08), William Keating (D-MA-09), Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA-04), Katherine Clark (D-MA-05), Seth Moulton (D-MA-06), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07) and Lori Trahan (D-MA-03), wrote to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging the USDA to immediately grant additional flexibility to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and other Massachusetts meal providers as they administer and modify child nutrition programs to meet the needs of Massachusetts families during the coronavirus public health emergency.

“Schools and communities are acting urgently and creatively to adapt to this unprecedented threat, and we ask you to support their efforts without delay,” the lawmakers wrote. “We request that you immediately use (your) authority to empower meal providers to adapt to their local conditions and needs in this unique time, and to guarantee reimbursement to all providers who are working to meet the needs of hungry children during this crisis.”

Since Governor Charlie Baker ordered all elementary and secondary schools in the state to close until May 4, 2020, schools and community organizations have been serving meals to children who normally rely on free school lunch.

Although these meals are open to any child in the community, school districts are currently only eligible for reimbursement from USDA if at least 50% of their students normally receive free or reduced-price lunch. In Massachusetts, 130,000 low-income children live in areas that do not currently qualify for reimbursement, and other families who might not normally qualify for the free lunch program may be in need of meals due to layoffs or business closures during this public health emergency.

On March 13, 2020, DESE submitted a waiver request to the USDA to temporarily suspend area eligibility requirements, which would allow schools and community organizations serving meals during school closures to be fully reimbursed for meals served in areas where fewer than 50% of children receive free or reduced-price lunch. In their letter, the lawmakers urged USDA to immediately grant that waiver using its new authority under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

“We urge you to approve this waiver request without delay to ensure that there are minimal disruptions to meals being provided to children in need,” the lawmakers continued.

The lawmakers also requested that USDA exercise its waiver authority to allow meals to be served under the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program (CACFP) at organizations that have suspended or modified their after-school programs to comply with social distancing requirements, and asked that USDA work with CACFP participants to provide reimbursement for meals served while programs are suspended.

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