Free School Meals, COVID Relief, and Counting Down to the Election: September Policy Updates

Update, Oct. 1, 2020: The stopgap spending bill passed the Senate with a strong bipartisan support and was signed into law, avoiding a government shutdown and extending Pandemic EBT and critical school meal waivers.

Update, Sept. 23, 2020: The House passed a stopgap spending measure to keep the government funded through mid-December. The bill also took critical steps in addressing child food insecurity, including measures to extend Pandemic EBT and USDA’s authority to issue school meal waivers through September 30, 2021. The bill is expected to pass the Senate and be signed into law by the president before the current funding expires. While this is an important win, we urge Congress to quickly pass additional relief measures to support struggling families and kids. Join us in raising your voice!

We’re less than 50 days away from a critical presidential election, and the stakes for school food and healthy communities are high. As we gear up for election season, here are the updates to know. 

Your efforts worked! Advocacy win: USDA allows schools to continue serving free school meals this fall 

Thanks to advocacy efforts by more than 1,300 organizations and their supporters, school districts can continue serving free school meals to all kids this fall. Since the beginning of the pandemic shutting down schools nationwide, child nutrition waivers issued by the USDA helped schools adopt new service models that efficiently and effectively feed kids. When these critical waivers were set to expire as the new school year began, bipartisan lawmakers and thousands of advocates, including the FoodCorps community, spoke up and called on the USDA to take action. As a result, the USDA extended these critical waivers through December 31, 2020, so that all kids can safely get free school meals for the first half of the school year, whether school is online or in person. 

While this is an important win for families and kids across the country who rely on free school meals, it is not enough. With so much uncertainty facing schools and families, we need consistency in meal distribution throughout the school year in order to ensure kids stay nourished. Forcing schools to switch from one program to another would result in unnecessary burden and cost for school nutrition professionals, and potential gaps in meals for families. FoodCorps joins allied organizations in continuing to urge the USDA to extend these waivers through the rest of the school year. 

Related read: In abrupt reversal, USDA extends summer school food waivers (Ag Insider)

COVID-19 relief package update

Congress is back in session from the August recess, but lawmakers face a short window of opportunity to pass the next COVID-19 relief package before the election. Yet there has not been any progress on the negotiation, with lawmakers unable to agree on what measures should be included. Each day that Congress fails to take action, our elected officials are leaving millions of struggling families, hungry kids, and under-resourced schools behind. 

Your elected officials need to continue hearing from you. Urge Congress to take immediate action to make school meals free for all kids, strengthen nutrition assistance, and give schools and cafeteria staff the support necessary to keep feeding kids. 

Related reads: 


Pandemic food aid program proven to reduce child food insecurity expires at the end of September

While the future of the next COVID-19 relief package remains unclear, a critical program that is nourishing millions of kids is about to expire. Pandemic EBT, authorized by Congress in March when schools shut down nationwide, has provided millions of low-income families with grocery dollars for kids who rely on free or reduced-price meals. Despite administrative hurdles faced by state officials, Pandemic EBT has proven to be successful in supporting families struggling to put food on the table. A study from the Brookings Institute found that Pandemic EBT reduced the number of food insecure children by 30% in the week following the disbursement of the benefits. However, the funding for this effective program runs out at the end of September. Congress can help change that by extending the program in the next COVID-19 relief bill. 

Related read: Millions of children may miss pandemic food aid as states scramble to meet Trump administration mandate (Politico)


Government funding expires at the end of September

Congress has another important issue to address before the election: government funding for the fiscal year 2021. The current federal funding expires at the end of September, and Congress must pass either a new budget or a continuing resolution to extend the current funding level before then in order to avoid a government shutdown. As we write this update, Congress is expected to pass a stopgap measure to keep the government funded until after the election. We will continue to monitor and let you know when to raise your voice. 


Get ready for Election Day: Make plans to vote

With less than 50 days before Election Day, we need your help in making school food a top priority for candidates from city council races to the presidential election! Elected officials at all levels make decisions that impact students’ physical, social, and emotional well-being. That means your vote matters in shaping school meals in your community. FoodCorps will be releasing a voter guide in the coming weeks with questions to ask your candidates about their plans to support healthy kids and healthy schools. In the meantime, join FoodCorps in making plans to vote and get ready for this election season!  

FoodCorps is a non-partisan, non-profit organization. FoodCorps staff and FoodCorps AmeriCorps members may not participate in any partisan or seemingly partisan activities during work time charged to a Corporation for National and Community Service funded grant or while earning AmeriCorps service hours. No federal funds were used to prepare or distribute these advocacy actions.