Legislative Update: Two USDA Programs Help Kids Get Food Through Summer

Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a nationwide extension of a program that has been helping to feed families. Local partners – such as schools and nonprofit organizations – have been serving meals to kids during coronavirus school closures. These partners will be able to continue serving free meals to all children through August 31. This extension is for a waiver of  area eligibility, allowing all children in all areas to receive free meals. Typically, USDA-funded summer meals sites are only for low-income areas. The nearest location to Hazel Wolf with this service is Olympic Hills elementary school at 13018 20th Ave NE.

In addition, a new USDA program called Pandemic-EBT provides food-purchasing benefits, equal to the value of school meals, to households with children who would qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school based on household income. To see if this can help your family, call the Lake City customer service center at 206-684-7526 or visit https://www.dshs.wa.gov/esa/community-services-offices/basic-food

Families can also use Meals for Kids, an interactive finder with more than 60,000 sites to find free meals for children in their area.

Legislative Update, Call to Action

Federal Rule Change: School and Summer Meals

The USDA is trying to change rules about who can access free or reduced-price school meals. This would be especially hard on Seattle kids because our high cost of living offsets incomes, allowing some more middle-income families to get subsidized school meals.

Additionally, if fewer kids in a school qualify for subsidized meals, the school can lose its Title 1 status. That means a major loss of funding and supports that help reduce class sizes and provide wrap-around services. In our neighborhood, Olympic Hills and Northgate Elementary schools currently qualify for Title 1.

Technically, a comment period on a proposed rule is not a voting exercise. However, hearing from a large group of parents can make a difference. Submitting unique comments is better than form letters, for those who can send something personal. In addition to the harm this would cause locally, here are some key points:

·  The Regulatory Impact Analysis failed to include the rule’s impact on the School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program

·  The draft rule fails to analyze long-term impacts and associated costs, including potential for reduced high school graduation rates, adult earnings, and community health impacts

·  The draft rule fails to account for impacts to Title 1 schools in high-cost areas. Loss of Title 1 funding and supports could be catastrophic to the educational objectives set by Department of Education for these schools.

The reforms were announced on January 17, 2020. For additional details about these proposals, see: School Meals Reform FactsheetSummer Meals Reform Factsheet and USDA Sets the Record Straight on Proposed School Meals Flexibilities.

The comment period will be extended 30 days and ends April 22, 2020. This extension will allow schools, state agencies, stakeholders, and others who are working tirelessly to ensure children have food to eat while schools are closed the opportunity to provide valuable feedback. Please submit comments via regulations.gov.

State Legislative Session Closes

The Washington State legislature adjourned “sine die” on March 12. To support COVID-19 efforts, the Legislature appropriated $200 million, of which $25 million was set aside in a new unemployment account created to support employees who need these benefits during school and business closures and time off to care for themselves or affected family members. On the final day of session, several amendments were adopted, including one that gives the State Board of Education the authority to grant waivers for students in the class of 2020 or before who are on track to graduate but are affected by school closures.

A pdf with a full recap from the Washington State PTA on education-related budget and legislative items is here