Tallahassee, Fla. – As Congress works on the next round of COVID-19 relief, funding for nutrition programs that are helping millions of American children and families through the pandemic remains uncertain. Yesterday, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried sent a letter to members of Florida’s Congressional Delegation highlighting the importance of those nutrition programs, calling for universal free school meals and an extension of the Pandemic EBT program, and emphasizing the dire financial issues facing providers of school meals and other nutrition assistance programs.
Universal Free School Meals: During COVID-19 related school closures, over 42 million student meals were provided from March through May under FDACS’ Summer BreakSpot Program. With many students relying on these meals as a reliable source of nutrition, moving that many students back to the traditional school lunch program could cause a great disruption as more students are expected to be in need of meals after the economic impact of COVID-19.
“With so many children in our communities now dependent on free meals due to COVID-19 hardships, the increased processing of meal applications and distribution of additional meals will be a massive undertaking for our already overburdened schools,” Commissioner Nikki Fried states in the letter. “Moving to universal free school meals for the 2020-2021 school year as has been proposed in H.R.7887, that has the support of more than 30 education health nutrition and hunger relief organizations, could help alleviate this burden on the schools.”
Extension of Pandemic EBT: Between April and June, nearly one in three families with children recounted dealing with food insecurity. Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) is providing nutrition assistance to school-age children eligible for free or reduced school meals during the pandemic, helping many parents who have lost their jobs to support their families.
In the letter, Commissioner Fried urges members to “extend the Pandemic EBT program through the upcoming school year” to help the “more than 2.1 million eligible children” in Florida and other actors the nation.
Financial issues facing nutrition providers: Organizations who have stepped up during the pandemic to help fill an increase in demand for nutrition assistance programs have also seen their own revenues decrease due to the economic effects of COVID-19 with a lack of federal support to match the increased administrative needs.
“In Florida, the estimated loss to the school districts’ school nutrition fund balances due to closures in the 2019-2020 school year is nearly $160 million,” Commissioner Nikki Fried states in the letter. “It is critical that emergency funding for school nutrition programs take into account not only the increased need for purchases but also the increased cost of operations for the meal providers as we work together to keep our students fed.”
The full letter can be downloaded here.