Statement of CSPI deputy director of federal affairs Colin Schwartz

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the twin epidemics of nutrition and food insecurity. But the United States Senate—particularly the members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry—have a historic opportunity to deliver progress to the 30 million children, mostly from low-income families, who rely on the school lunch and breakfast program.

The Senate Agriculture Committee hearing scheduled for tomorrow is just the beginning of the long process of reauthorizing child nutrition legislation. Such legislation must guarantee healthy school meals for all. Offering school meals to all enrolled students eliminates the cost barrier families near the cutoff line to qualify face, reduces burdensome paperwork, and eliminates the stigma of being singled out for receiving school meal assistance.

Child nutrition reauthorization must also have as a major priority a strengthening of the science-based nutrition standards for school foods. CSPI and its legal partners won a court victory blocking the Trump administration’s rollbacks of sodium and whole grain standards. But nutrition standards must be updated to comport with the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, particular its recommendations on added sugars and sodium.

We know that schools can provide healthier meals that kids enjoy. In fact, USDA’s own data found that the nutritional quality of school meals jumped by 50 percent between 2009 and 2014 and kids were eating—not throwing away—the food.

School food service providers took a major financial and logistical hit during the pandemic. We hope the occasion of this hearing encourages Senators to build this program back better than before.