Merkley, Wyden Back School Meal Programs Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Oregon Democrat Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are urging the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue critical flexibility that has allowed students to access much-needed meals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. If extended throughout the 2020-2021 school year, children would maintain access regardless of school opening status, and struggling school nutrition programs would benefit from additional financial relief. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools around the country to close their buildings and shift instruction to online and distance-learning models,” the senators wrote. “For many children, school breakfast and lunch may be the only healthy and regular meals they receive.” 

The senators continued, “The economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in millions of parents losing their jobs, and millions more students will be dependent on school-provided meals. School meal program directors must begin procuring food, equipment, and supplies and placing orders now in preparation for the upcoming school year.” 

To help ensure school meal program directors and staff have the certainty that they need to begin preparing for the upcoming school year, the senators are urging the USDA to extend a variety of waivers that will help ensure low-income students can access school-provided meals throughout the upcoming school year. 

Additionally, the senators are calling on the USDA to reimburse schools for the transportation costs for delivering meals to low-income students: “While many school meal programs are managing these costs for the time-being, they cannot continue absorbing them for the foreseeable future. We ask that the USDA make additional funds available to schools to assist with the cost of delivering meals to low-income students until regular school operations are restored.” 

This letter comes as some of the largest school districts in Oregon announced that they would be transitioning to full-time, online only instruction through at least November. As of now, those school districts include Beaverton, North Clackamas, Lake Oswego, Portland Public Schools, Hillsboro, and Salem-Keizer.