House Lawmakers Have Opportunity to Deliver Historic Progress on School Meals Program
Statement of CSPI Deputy Director of Federal Affairs Colin Schwartz
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the twin epidemics of nutrition and food insecurity facing American children and families. Tomorrow, the members of the House Education and Labor Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee have a historic opportunity to begin to turn the tide by delivering progress for the 30 million children, mostly from low-income families, who rely on the school lunch and breakfast program.
The Subcommittee’s June 10 hearing marks the beginning process of drafting legislation for the program in the House. Such legislation must guarantee free and healthy school meals for all children.
School meals have never been more important. As schools prepare to reopen in the fall, the need for free school meals will only grow as more families struggle financially and food and nutrition insecurity deepens because of the pandemic. We urge the Subcommittee to include the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization to provide free meals for all students regardless of their family’s income. This would end “lunch shaming” and make sure no kids are treated differently because they cannot pay for their meal. It would also provide financial support to school nutrition programs which have taken on enormous financial losses to feed students during the pandemic.
The upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization must also strengthen the science-based nutrition standards for school foods. Schools have made significant progress under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. However, they need support to keep up with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, particularly its recommendations on added sugars and sodium. CSPI led the successful effort to overturn the Trump administration’s rollbacks on the nutrition standards and protect the monumental progress schools have made. We also applaud the leadership of House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, who opposed weakening the standards and has called to make the standards stronger.
Specifically, we ask Congress to establish an added sugar limit consistent with the latest DGA for school meals. Research shows that most schools (92 percent) exceeded the DGA limit for added sugars for breakfast, while 69 percent exceeded the limit for lunch.
In addition, Congress should update the sodium-reduction targets for school meals within a feasible timetable and establish further sodium-reduction targets for younger children to comport with the Dietary Guidelines.
Fortunately, the Biden administration has authorized free school meals for all children through June, 2022, but more must be done. Schools will also need all the help they can get to provide meals that meet the strong nutrition standards—in particular to provide foods with more whole grains and less salt and added sugars. Lawmakers on the Subcommittee have the opportunity to make healthier meals a reality for millions of school-age children.