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Pascrell, Menendez, Booker Urge Action to Feed Students During Epidemic

Letter to Agriculture Secretary calls for flexibility to Garden State schools

Washington, DC, March 12, 2020

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) and Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) today wrote to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him to give flexibility to New Jersey schools to ensure they can keep feeding New Jersey students amid the accelerating COVID-19 crisis.

“We write on behalf of all students in New Jersey who depend on free and reduced school meal programs to ensure they receive meals throughout school closures related to the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak,” the members write.

On March 9, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared a State of Emergency and a Public Health Emergency over the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in the state. In an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard the health of students, teachers, and staff, several school districts have already announced temporary closures, with more likely to soon follow suit. Since many students rely on school meals for breakfast and lunch and would otherwise go hungry, closed schools will imperil the ability of many students to access food.

The USDA had waived program requirements to ensure states have the needed flexibility to safely administer school meal programs during COVID-19 closures. Pascrell, Menendez, and Booker write Secretary Perdue to push the USDA to give full consideration to New Jersey’s request and use its authority to allow all eligible School Food Authorities to serve students meals through the Summer Food Service Program, which 41 of the 675 school districts in New Jersey are eligible to participate in.

“During a public health emergency, the last thing students need to worry about is where they are going to get their next meal. We look forward to working with you to meet New Jersey’s needs by providing the flexibility permitted by statute throughout the COVID-19 epidemic. Thank you in advance for your attention to this pressing matter,” Pascrell, Menendez, and Booker conclude.

A copy of the letter is available here, the text of which is provided below.

 

March 12, 2020

 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary

United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., S.W.

Washington, DC 20250

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write on behalf of all students in New Jersey who depend on free and reduced school meal programs to ensure they receive meals throughout school closures related to the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. On March 9, Governor Phil Murphy declared a State of Emergency and a Public Health Emergency in New Jersey over the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in the state.[i] In an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard the health of students, teachers, and staff, several school districts have already announced temporary closures.[ii] We anticipate the number of school closures to increase. During this trying time for our constituents, it is important all is done to ensure no student goes hungry.

We applaud United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for waiving program requirements, including waiving the group setting meal requirement, to ensure states have the needed flexibility to safely administer school meal programs during COVID-19 closures.[iii] We encourage the USDA to give full and fair consideration to the State of New Jersey’s request and use its authority to allow all eligible School Food Authorities (SFAs) to serve students meals through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which 41 of the 675 school districts in New Jersey are eligible to participate in, during unanticipated school closures across our state. Specifically, we request the following of USDA:

·                     Waive the group setting meal requirement to allow New Jersey to provide grab-and-go service to students at a central site, which is a necessary public health precaution.

·                     Extend the program eligibility to participate in SFSP to all SFAs impacted by COVID-19 closures to provide meals to low-income students.

During a public health emergency, the last thing students need to worry about is where they are going to get their next meal. We look forward to working with you to meet New Jersey’s needs by providing the flexibility permitted by statute throughout the COVID-19 epidemic. Thank you in advance for your attention to this pressing matter.

Sincerely,

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