Americas

Legislation update: foodservice and the Biden administration

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Amelia Levin runs the rule over the president's newly signed executive orders and the potential impact on the school foodservice sector in particular

Last week, US president Joseph R. Biden signed a series of executive orders, some of which may impact the foodservice industry – school foodservice in particular.

Chief among the now 17 orders signed by president Biden during his first 100 days in office were those intended to provide immediate and direct funding for Covid-19 vaccine distribution, testing and contact tracing.

Other orders – which could have an impact on the foodservice industry and its workers – are aimed at providing better guidance and support to safely re-open businesses, and how to maintain safety; enacting a nationwide mask mandate that requires people to wear face coverings when not with members of their household; seeking additional funding for businesses and state and local governments, which includes a ‘restart package’ aimed at helping small businesses cover the costs of PPE, plexiglass and other needs for safe operations; ramping up PPE manufacturing using the Defense Production Act, and bolstering the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protecting deportation immigrants brought to the United States as children; signing a letter to re-enter the U.S. in the Paris climate accords, which is part of a longer-term goal to tackle the issue of climate change, and promoting a $15 minimum wages for workers nationwide.

The impact on school foodservice

School foodservice, in particular, could soon see a bump in financial and governmental support, as part of president Biden’s executive order intended to feed families. According to The White House’s website, the order addresses the growing hunger crisis – which includes 12 million children – by asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider expanding and extending federal nutrition assistance programs.

One in seven households, and more than one in five Black and Latino households, report that their household struggles to secure the food they need, according to The White House’s site. President Biden, as part of his American Rescue Plan proposal, asks the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to consider taking the following steps to provide nutrition assistance to working families.

These steps include increasing access to nutritious food for millions of children missing meals due to school closures. Established under Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) connects low-income families with kids with food dollars equivalent to the value of the school meals missed due to COVID-related school closures.

To date, the program has only allowed P-EBT benefit amounts up to $5.70 per child per school day and many households have had trouble claiming benefits. To address these concerns and expand needed relief, the president is asking USDA to consider issuing new guidance increasing P-EBT benefits by approximately 15% to accurately reflect the costs of missing meals and make it easier for households to claim benefits. For instance, this action could provide a family with three children more than $100 of additional support every two months.

Feeding the nation’s children

According to the School Nutrition Association, many schools across the nation have continued to provide free meals even while closed, and not just to families in need and those registered to receive them pre-pandemic, but to all families within the district. As schools reopen, both with an all in-person and hybrid/remote model – many may continue to feed children at-home or send kids home with meals to avoid mask removal due to eating in school.

SNA’s recently-released, 2021 position paper calls on Congress to permanently offer school meals to all students at no charge through the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, and to take additional steps to ensure the long-term sustainability of school meal programs.

“Providing all students equal access to a healthy school breakfast and lunch will contribute to the academic achievement, health and wellness of America’s youth at a critical time for our country,” said SNA president Reggie Ross said in a statement. “School meal programs are proven to support learning and foster healthy eating habits. We must ensure these critical programs recover from financial losses incurred during the pandemic and remain sustainable to serve future generations of students.”

The 2021 Position Paper calls on Congress to provide emergency financial relief for school meal programs and to preserve USDA Foods (commodity) entitlements and State Administrative Expense (SAE) funds, impacted by the decline in school meal participation due to Covid-19 school closures.

The Position Paper also emphasizes the need to reduce regulatory and administrative burdens, which hinder efforts to serve students. In March, school nutrition professionals from across the country will meet virtually with their members of Congress to discuss the paper.

Amelia Levin