Sen. Debbi Stabenow Urges USDA to Extend Food Program Waivers
U.S senator Debbi Stabenow of Michigan warned on Tuesday that the USDA will not continue providing food program waivers unless Congress acts.
The waivers ensure students are fed while the schools are still closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Stabenow said that she is fighting the decision of the department, as per News and Tribune.
Places other than schools will no longer give government-reimbursed meals to children and students at the end of August. Meaning, children will not receive meals during weekends, which is allowed under the summer rules.
During a virtual news conference that Stabenow and other officials talked about the thirty million children in the country that get government-fund meals, she said, the issue is crucial, especially that the U.S is not yet done with the pandemic, and families in Michigan and other states are facing a crisis. "Some children get their meals at school. We have about 800,000 children in Michigan who traditionally have been in that category," Stabenow added.
Last week, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue sent a letter to Stabenow. The letter states that the department does not have the authority to extend summer waivers without the approval and funding of Congress.
Perdue said in the letter, "While we want to provide as much flexibility as local school districts need during this pandemic, the scope of this request is beyond what USDA currently has the authority toapply. And will be closer to a universal school meals program that Congress has not authorized or funded. Should Congress choose to go in this direction, USDA stands ready to give technical assistance."
Congress hasn't taken away the department's ability to provide the needed flexibility to make sure that students will receive healthy meals, as per Stabenow. She is also unsure of where the decision came from.
Sen.Stabenow said, "I sure would hate to think that somehow holding access to food over their heads, over ahead of parents, head of schools, would be used in that process, but there's been no deadline. At this point, it's a choice that they are making."
Along with U.S Representative Robert Scott of Virginia, Sen. Stabenow said that she would reach out to the USDA to denounce its decision that took away meal flexibility. More and more are transitioning to a remote learning or complete online instruction to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus as school districts in Michigan publish their back-to-school plans.
According to The Oakland Press, schools across Michigan with classes canceled held food distribution events or delivered meals to families without transportation access.
Earlier, the Pontiac School District reported this summer that about 900 families were picking up food under the federal program per week.
Meanwhile, the Avondale School District reported about 1,000 families per week to use the program this summer, Avondale School District serves parts of Rochester Hills, Troy, Auburn Hills, and Pontiac.
Stabenow said Congress granted the USDA the authority to loosen the rules under the Families First COVID-19 Response Act. And the department stated that it would maintain some less restrictive regulations for food distribution that the agency granted under the act.
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