Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act: What People Are Saying

WASHINGTON — The Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act is House Democrats’ plan to expand access to free school meals for all children during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to prevent the collapse of school nutrition programs. Here’s what the nation’s leading anti-hunger and child nutrition organizations are saying about the bill. 

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND): “The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics believes that school meals are as important to learning as textbooks and pencils. In the midst of uncertain school reopening plans as a result of the COVID-19 national emergency, the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act will guarantee all children have access to high-quality, nutritious school meals. The Academy applauds Rep. Scott and others for prioritizing the health and well-being of children in the wake of the pandemic. This effort is particularly important given that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted marginalized and minoritized communities as well as those with underlying diet-related diseases,” said Academy President Linda T. Farr, RDN, CSOWM, LD, FAND.

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): “The COVID-19 pandemic has put dire financial strain and stress on families – with food insecurity among households with children skyrocketing. This legislation makes progress toward ensuring all children can access the meals they need while reducing administrative and paperwork burdens on parents and schools, during a time of much uncertainty for families across the country. The American Academy of Pediatrics thanks Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) for his leadership and is calling for the bill’s swift passage,” said AAP CEO/Executive Vice President Mark Del Monte, JD.

American Commodity Distribution Association (ACDA): "Millions of children struggle with hunger each day in the United States.  Universal school meals will ensure that all children get the food they need to develop, grow and learn.  Universal school meals will also eliminate the stigma associated with receiving free meals.  Universal school meals would also eliminate the burden to schools associated with collecting unpaid meal debt from families or footing the bill for meals served when children do not have money to pay.  Operating under the conditions of the Covid-19 Pandemic has created massive challenges for school nutrition operators. Universal meals for all programs would greatly reduce these challenges,” said ACDA President Sandy Hopple. 

American Federation of Teachers (AFT): “Our country’s public schools have so many roles in addition to the academic ones; they have become places where millions of kids eat meals every day. The economic crisis created by COVID-19 has exacerbated food insecurity for families in our country as job loss numbers, enrollment for assistance, and access to food banks all continue to grow. With states beginning to roll back reopenings, more uncertainties are ahead of us; families should not have to worry about access to school meals this fall. With this legislation, any student should be able to receive a meal if the school serves them. Schools are the hubs of our communities, places where all students should find safety during these unclear times. This bill puts our students’ basic needs first, providing schools with the additional investments to serve those meals and closing the inequity gaps that have persisted in our neighborhoods for far too long. Thank you to Chairman Bobby Scott for the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act,” said AFT President, Randi Weingarten.

American Heart Association: “The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for many, but school-aged children have been especially impacted by school closings, the transition to virtual learning and, for many, a disruption in how they eat. Millions of children nationwide rely on schools for healthy, nutritious meals. This bill provides necessary relief for children who through no fault of their own are not getting the healthy meals they need and deserve because of the pandemic.” 

American Public Health Association (APHA): “School breakfast, lunch, and afterschool snack programs are a lifeline for many students who have no other source of regular, healthy meals – and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s essential that we extend the flexibility of these programs to provide nutritious food to all students. This bill, led by Chairman Bobby Scott, would make a monumental difference for families struggling with food insecurity by making all students eligible for free meals through school lunch and breakfast programs for the duration of the 2020-2021 school year,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

AASA, The School Superintendents Association: “As families face levels of food insecurity unseen since the Great Depression and the unemployment rate continues to rise as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, school nutrition programs are facing an existential financial crisis next school year. Without congressional action and additional aid, many schools will have to consider tapping into lines of credit or laying off staff and discontinuing their participation in the federal school meal programs, leaving our most vulnerable students with no nutrition support at school. As such, AASA, The School Superintendents Association, is proud to support this piece of legislation to reimburse all federal meals at the free rate and dramatically expand participation in the federal meals programs during the 2020-21 school year,” said AASA Executive Director, Daniel A. Domenech. 

Bread for the World: “Bread for the World supports Chairman Bobby Scott’s Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act. As childhood hunger continues to rise in the U.S. because of COVID-19, making sure children receive nutritious meals every day must be a top priority for our country. According to recent studies, childhood hunger in the U.S. has quadrupled since the start of the pandemic – with nearly 14million children experiencing hunger in June. Expanding access to free school meals to all students during the 2020-2021 school year will help ensure that no child goes hungry. We hope that Congress will consider this legislation, along with an increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and the expansion of the Pandemic EBT program, as a part of the next COVID-19 relief bill,” Said Rev. Eugene Cho, president of Bread for the World.  

Center for American Progress (CAP): “I am wholeheartedly in support of the Pandemic Child Hunger Protection Act, which would ensure that – as millions of people face unprecedented financial insecurity and schools grapple with plummeting budgets caused by staggering drops in state revenue – children who need a school meal get one.

No child should have to struggle with hunger at school, but this bill is particularly critical for children of color, whose families are already bearing the disproportionate brunt of COVID-19 health and economic impacts and who are already more likely to be food insecure thanks to the long legacy of structural racism.  

Finally, this legislation is just common-sense. On top of other benefits, it would relieve the administrative burden of determining who does or doesn’t qualify for free or reduced school meals at a time when schools have much more important questions and complexities to manage as they work to reopen safely,” said Alexandra Cawthorne Gaines, Vice President of the Poverty to Prosperity program at the Center for American Progress (CAP).

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI): "In the Senate COVID stimulus package, the Trump administration and Senate Republicans are attempting to leverage financial support to force schools to reopen next school year against public health advice. If they really cared about children’s health and wellbeing, and the tireless school food service staff working to provide these children with nutritious meals, they would instead be prioritizing nutrition for all kids: universal school meals. We are urging Congress to instead strongly support Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act, introduced by House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott today, that provides a nutritious breakfast and lunch this coming school year for all children. If enacted, this bill would provide free meals to students regardless of their family’s income,” said CSPI Deputy Director Federal Affairs Colin Schwartz.

Children’s HealthWatch: “The scientific evidence is clear – when children of any age don’t have sufficient, healthy food, their health and ability to learn suffers. With the explosion in economic hardship resulting from the COVID pandemic, as pediatricians and public health researchers from Children’s HealthWatch, we support policies that provide children - starting from birth – access to the food they need to grow and thrive, no matter their families’ circumstances,” said Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, Executive Director of Children's HealthWatch. 

CLASP: "With unprecedented numbers of children experiencing hunger, this bill would ensure that all students can receive school meals.  At a time when families—especially families of color—are struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic, having schools support nutrition efficiently and effectively is critical to children’s health and wellbeing,” said CLASP Executive Director, Olivia Golden.

FoodCorps: "School food is essential. The COVID pandemic has made that clearer than ever. Child hunger is at unprecedented levels for modern times, and communities of color are bearing a disproportionate burden. With so much uncertainty facing schools, families, and school nutrition professionals this coming year, now is the time to make meals free for all kids, just like textbooks and school bus rides are free. We applaud Chairman Scott's leadership on this issue and urge Congress to act swiftly.”

FRAC: "FRAC has long supported offering free school breakfast and lunch to all students," said Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center. "Given how Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on health, education, and the economy, ensuring that children have access to nutritious meals at school, and at child care and community sites is more critical than ever for the upcoming school year.  We strongly support the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act,” said Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center.

Hunger Free America: “In normal times, 29 million U.S. kids get school lunches daily. Given that many schools will likely stayed physically closed this fall, and that hunger is soaring, it is imperative that school districts have the maximum flexibility  necessary to continue feeding as many children as possible," said Joel Berg, the CEO of Hunger Free America.

Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Columbia University"Schools provide students with everything they need to learn—teachers, textbooks, desks—for free, everything that is except for school meals.  Learning on an empty belly is hard, but the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act fixes this problem, making it easier for schools to feed children next year," said Dr. Pam Koch, Executive Director of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Teachers College, Columbia University. 

MAZON: “There is nothing more essential to children than getting adequate nutrition to maintain their health, ensure that they can learn, and pave the way to a brighter future. At MAZON we are all too aware that the current school meals program has resulted in the abhorrent practice of shaming school children who do not have adequate funds to pay for their subsidized meals. This bill would secure access to free meals for the school year ahead and ensure that no child will have to endure the shame and stigma that has become an all too common practice in schools across our country. In addition to the critical boosts to SNAP that were included in the HEROES Act, this bill would respond to the urgent unmet needs during this time of increased hunger and hardship. We are proud to support Chairman Scott’s visionary proposal for universal school meals,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

MomsRising: “Moms all across our country are feeling the heartbreak that comes with not being able to give their children the healthy food they need to thrive. COVID-19 has exacerbated hunger, homelessness and poverty. During tough times, schools are the most reliable place for our children to get nutritious meals. Regardless of where they are learning this school year, children should have access to nutritious food. This is why we are urging Congress to pass the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act, to make sure our children do not suffer any more than they have in this pandemic,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director and CEO of MomsRising.

National Association of School Nurses: "NASN supports the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act because school nurses know that access to school meals is essential to student health and academic success.  While schools were engaged in virtual learning, and continuing on during the summer, our school nutrition partners provided meals to qualified students under the summer operations plan. As staff delivered food, they met families who had never needed Free or Reduced meal support before; families who were now suffering from job loss related to COVID-19.  As this pandemic continues to play out in communities across this nation, it is expected that more families will face similar circumstances. The provision of school meals to all students would serve to remove the stigma families may feel associated with application for meal assistance and eliminate "lunch shaming" of students whose families cannot pay their share of a reduced lunch. Nutritious school meals serve to improve health and support engaged cognition of all students,” said National Association of School Nurses President Laurie G. Combe, MN, RN, NCSN.

National Education Association (NEA): “With so many of our communities nowhere near ready for schools to return to in-person learning safely and food insecurity rising at an alarming rate among families across the country, our students must have access to the nutritious meals that are critical to their health and physical development and prepare them for learning. Chairman’s Scott’s bill will help schools more easily provide meals to all children during the 2020-21 school year and ensure that no child goes hungry,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

National Farm to School Network: Kids need healthy, high-quality meals more than ever, as families across the country face lost income and unstable employment. Making sure school meal programs can feed every kid in these turbulent times is the right thing to do, and we applaud Chairman Scott for advancing the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the longstanding inequities in our food and education systems. Ensuring that all kids – across every race, place and class – will be able to eat nourishing school meals is one important step towards addressing these inequities and moving us closer to justice,” said Karen Spangler, Policy Director of National Farm to School Network.

School Nutrition Association: “With rising unemployment and reduced wages, millions more families will rely on school meals to nourish their children this fall. The Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act guarantees every child has safe access to healthy school meals, while sparing overburdened schools the massive task of processing meal applications and verifying student eligibility for free meals. Providing school meals at no charge to all students is the safest, most effective way to serve students and combat childhood hunger during the pandemic,” said SNA President Reggie Ross, SNS.

UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity: “Families and school staff face numerous challenges this fall – but filling out paperwork to feed hungry children should not be one of them. With food insecurity rates rapidly rising, universal free school meals for the coming school year is a common sense strategy to ensure that all students have access to the healthy meals they need,” said Director, Dr. Marlene Schwartz.

Urban School Food Alliance: "I applaud Chairman Scott for this essential Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act for School Year 20-21. As unemployment continues to fluctuate, families need assistance with access to healthy food and with schools opening using a wide variety of methods, we must ensure school meals are easy to obtain, no matter what the circumstance. Universal School Meals will help school districts by reducing administrative burdens while reducing food insecurity for ALL children in the communities they serve,” said Urban School Food Alliance Executive Director Katie Wilson, PhD.


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