Schools are the backbone of our efforts to end child hunger in this country. For many kids, they are the only place where they can reliably get a healthy, nutritious meal all day. My sisters are both public school teachers and they’ve told me time and again that healthy meals are just as important for students as a laptop or a textbook. I couldn’t agree more.
Sometimes, a lack of food can even result in developmental problems or learning disabilities. Other times, it prevents kids from concentrating. These problems can lead to under-education, which can have long-term effects, including a lifetime of low-paying jobs and even unemployment.
That’s why I’ve fought so hard to expand access to healthy school meals for students across America. I also strongly support the recently-extended Seamless Summer Option, which helps schools provide students with meals free of charge. Any disruption to these important programs can cause a domino effect for our kids—not just for a single day, but possibly throughout their whole lives.
We saw this on a massive scale during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research released earlier this year by UNICEF found that school closures around the world led to more than 39 billion missed in-school meals. One stat in particular puts this staggering number in context: since the pandemic first led to school closures, 370 million children around the world have missed an average of 40 percent of their school meals.
And while many businesses and other educational institutions are adapting and returning to in-person learning, the pandemic-fueled school hunger crisis is far from over. Turning our economy back around has led to another domino effect that is being felt around the globe—a supply chain shortage.
Our students are on the frontlines of this crisis as nutrition services and administrators face delivery snags and struggle to obtain everything from crucial meal ingredients to utensils and trays.
President Biden continues to use levers of the federal government to try and alleviate this crises, including working with goods carriers to increase shipments of goods. And we should pass his Build Back Better reconciliation bill as quickly as possible because it includes provisions to bolster our domestic supply chains.
But we can also help by sourcing more food directly from farmers and ranchers. To this end, the Biden administration can and should clarify the rules surrounding a recently announced $1.5 billion school aid program.
This would help rebalance the scales in favor of independent family farmers at a time when nearly 60 percent of the $1.3 billion USDA Foods Program spending goes to only 15 large multinational corporations. It would also get meals into schools in a way that values priorities like local economies, environmental sustainability, support for workers, animal welfare, and nutrition.
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