Read the full letter here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A2OyQ4NfoNIs6doWA3pkX_s7KGyJ4vMUKN6zN383lqk/edit?usp=sharing
NOTE: This letter is intended for national, state, and local organizations. This is not intended for individuals.
Sign-on by Monday, June 21 at COB Eastern Time.
Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary Vilsack, Secretary Cardona, Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell, Chairwoman Stabenow, Ranking Member Boozeman, Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader McCarthy, Chairman Scott, and Ranking Member Foxx,
We, the XX undersigned national, state, and local organizations and associations, write urging Congress and the Administration to work together to build on the impressive work already being accomplished during the pandemic to offer healthy school meals to every child at no cost and maintain this approach to provide Healthy School Meals for All beyond the 2021-2022 school year.
The Biden Administration’s proposed American Families Plan (AFP) takes a strong step in this direction by expanding the community eligibility provision to more high poverty schools and dramatically expanding electronic benefits transfer options when schools are closed. We believe this country has an historic opportunity to take an additional step towards ending childhood hunger and advancing economic, racial, and food justice by providing healthy school meals to all students.
This would ensure that every child in the U.S. has access to the nutritious school breakfasts and
lunches that can help support their academic success. School meals reduce childhood hunger, decrease childhood overweight and obesity, improve child nutrition and wellness, advance racial equity, enhance child development, and support learning, attendance, and behavior.
Healthy School Meals for All would allow school breakfast and lunch to be offered at no charge to all children. Currently, only students from homes with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line are eligible for free school meals. Many struggling families do not qualify for free school meals, and school meals fees create a barrier to participation. Offering free meals to all students eliminates the cost barrier for families who do not qualify, but who still struggle to make ends meet. It also helps reduce racial disparities in health and education for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous children, who experience hunger at disproportionate rates and face systemic barriers to food access both at school and in their communities. And by having every student participate in school meals, it helps address the stigma some children fear of being labeled “poor” by their classmates.
Offering meals at no charge also would be a tremendous support to schools across the country. Schools would no longer have the cost of collecting and processing school meals applications and completing other paperwork. Further, school meals actually cost schools less per student when more students participate in a free meal program.
Schools would no longer struggle with collecting unpaid school meal fees from families or foot the bill for meals served when children do not have money to pay. No longer would school nutrition staff be asked to undertake the heart-wrenching task of taking food away from a child. Removing this dynamic between families and schools allows school nutrition staff to focus on preparing and serving healthy meals to children, and it eliminates a significant financial burden for school districts and families.
Recent studies reaffirm that access to nutritious meals in school increases the health and educational outcomes for our nation’s children. Investing in these programs to ensure all children — regardless of income — can access healthy meals year-round would help ensure that every child is ready to learn and thrive.
The Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 (S. 1530/HR 3115) introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Gwen Moore (D-WI), creates a model for Healthy School Meals for All and addressing the well-being of our nation’s children, particularly those from low-income households.
Healthy School Meals for All can and should be an important educational and health support as the nation recovers from the pandemic. Providing school meals to all students is also critical for advancing racial equity and justice, as it would ensure that Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students are able to access the key nutrition they need to thrive in the classroom and beyond. Thank you for your leadership and we look forward to working with you to ensure that every child in this country receives the nutritious food they need to learn and grow. Again, we ask that Congress and the Administration work together to include Healthy School Meals for All in the American Families Plan or any other forthcoming legislative vehicle.
American Academy of Pediatrics
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Bread for the World
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Children's Defense Fund
First Focus Campaign for Children
Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Education Association
School Nutrition Association
Urban School Food Alliance