HARRISBURG, PA — Governor Tom Wolf this week called on congressional leaders to extend the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) waiver authority for child nutrition programs through the 2022-23 school year in the 2022 Omnibus Bill. As supply chain and workforce issues persist, the waiver authority will ensure adequate funding and flexibility to purchase and transport a variety of foods for school meals.
“As Congress finalizes negotiations on the 2022 Omnibus Bill, I have a simple but urgent request on behalf of Pennsylvania schools, children, and families,” said Gov. Wolf. “I’m asking them to extend the waiver authority of the USDA through the next school year to ensure that we have the ability to feed Pennsylvania’s kids striving to thrive.
“I’ve done everything in my power to ensure children access to a high-quality education, but you cannot feed a hungry mind on an empty stomach. This waiver authority is critical to ensuring access to food for millions of kids and simultaneously supporting our nation’s food and agriculture industry,” added Gov. Wolf.
Previously, during the pandemic, the waivers were used to ensure all Pennsylvania children access to meals while school was virtual or otherwise nontraditional. Now, the waivers are critical to provide schools with a higher rate of reimbursement per meal to make up for current inflation and flexibility in food options approved to serve as many of the required or approved options are currently unavailable with supply chain issues.
If the waiver authority is not extended, the inability of schools to purchase foods will have a ripple effect across Pennsylvania’s—and the nation’s—food and agriculture industry. The National School Lunch and Breakfast Program requires that schools “Buy American” to support local food production. If schools cannot receive a higher rate of reimbursement through a USDA waiver—a difference of $4.56 per meal to $2.91 per meal—spending on school foods will decrease by more than 36%. That decrease will significantly impact every business and family owned farm along the supply chain.
Additionally, with the waiver authority, the USDA could opt to continue free meals for all students to support families struggling with everything from gas to groceries increasing in cost.
Read Gov. Wolf’s full plea to Congress here.
On February 3, Gov. Wolf, First Lady Frances Wolf, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding and Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Noe Ortega sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation on urging them to support the extension of this important USDA waiver authority.