Sanders, Omar, and others introduce permanent universal school meals program

“No child in the richest country in the world should face hunger.”

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Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), and others introduced a bill called The Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 which would create a permanent universal school meals program providing breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack to children for free. 

This piece of legislation has nine cosponsors in the Senate, 26 cosponsors in the House and over 360 organizations supporting the bill. 

“In the richest country in the world, it is an outrage that millions of children struggle with hunger every day. Every child deserves a quality education free of hunger. What we’ve seen during this pandemic is that a universal approach to school meals works. We cannot go backward. I am proud to introduce this legislation alongside my colleagues to ensure no student goes hungry again,” says Sen. Sanders. 

“No child in the richest country in the world should face hunger. One in six children in my state of Minnesota don’t know where their next meal will come from. Families across Minnesota and nationwide are still struggling from the fallout of the pandemic, and children are often bearing the brunt of this crisis. I am proud to partner with my colleagues to implement a universal school meals program to ensure all of our children have the nutrition they need to succeed,” says Rep. Omar.

Along with offering universal free meals during the school year, the bill would increase school meal reimbursement rates to $2.72 for breakfast and $3.81 for lunch and dinner, and reimburse schools for all delinquent school meal debt. Schools that procure 25% of their food from local sources would also receive an incentive of up to $0.30 per meal, reports Food Service Director

According to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ site, this legislation is an expansion on the success of the universal free lunch approach recently extended by the USDA. 

The USDA program was established to help all children receive breakfasts and lunches through the pandemic, but the current extension is intended only to ease the transition back to in-person schooling, reports Truthout

The USDA estimates that 12 million children in the United States lived in food insecure homes at the height of the pandemic, writes Sen. Sanders. 

Prior to the pandemic and the Universal School Meals Program Act introduced by Sanders and Omar in 2019, there was the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. This outdated bill only helps extremely low income households and comes with a lot of complicated paperwork. Many students who do not meet particular qualifications are left hungry. This new bill would eliminate these unnecessary hurdles. 

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