HARRISBURG, PA — On Wednesday, the Wolf Administration sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s Congressional Delegation urging them to support the extension of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nationwide waiver authority throughout the 2022-23 school year.
“Pennsylvania’s kids are relying on us to ensure their food security, and that’s why we need Congress to act now to allow USDA authority to extend school feeding waivers,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “The flexibilities these waivers provide assure consistent access to nutritious food, filling hungry bellies and relieving a stressor for Pennsylvania parents.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Congress has given the USDA the authority to issue nationwide waivers to ensure that school feeding programs could adapt to the needs of the communities they serve amidst ever-changing learning environments and increased food assistance needs during the summer months.
According to Feeding Pennsylvania, more than 1.5 million people in Pennsylvania, including more than 443,000 children, are at risk of hunger, and our school feeding programs play a critical role in ensuring that all our young people have the food they need to grow and thrive.
“Pennsylvania’s families face – and continue to face – so many challenges, but access to food should not be one of them,” said First Lady Frances Wolf. “The child nutrition waivers make sense, they work, and they help empower entire communities.”
The waivers issued by USDA can serve a multitude of purposes. Examples include allowing flexibility for both schools and nonprofits as to where meals can be accessed and the opportunity to offer meals to young siblings of school aged children or a chance to provide continued access to afterschool meals and snacks, regardless of traditional school and activities being in session or not.
“It is critical to meet the physical, mental, and emotional needs of learners so they can learn, grow, and achieve, and additional resources and support have never been more necessary,” said Secretary of Education Dr. Noe Ortega. “The extra flexibility these waivers can provide will help alleviate supply chain challenges, protect at-risk children, and ensure continuity of services to students, schools, and communities across the commonwealth.”
Waivers for the 2021-22 schoolyear are set to expire on June 30, 2022, and USDA cannot provide waivers past this date without approval by Congress. This means that the summer meal options countless Pennsylvania families have relied on over the past two years will expire, leaving millions of children without consistent access to food.
“This waiver authority is critical to ensure Pennsylvania’s school-aged children don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “Food is a human right, and it’s critical fuel for children to thrive and succeed.”
Schools and community feeding partners are already making plans for the summer and 2022-23 schoolyear. They need to know now if they’ll have the opportunity to continue serving Pennsylvania children in the same manner or if service opportunities will be limited.
Families currently in need of support to meet their food needs are encouraged to take advantage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP supports low-income and working Pennsylvanians, allowing them to purchase produce and groceries for themselves and their family. SNAP helps more than 1.9 million Pennsylvanians, including children, people with disabilities, older adults, and working Pennsylvanians, expand purchasing power to ensure their household has enough food to avoid going hungry. SNAP is issued through a monthly payment to an electronic benefit transfer card, and benefits are based off income and household size. People can apply for SNAP online at www.compass.state.pa.us online at any time.
More about the Wolf Administration’s efforts to improve food security across the commonwealth and options for those in need can be found at agriculture.pa.gov/foodsecurity.