WARNER, KAINE URGE USDA TO PROVIDE FLEXIBILITY FOR FAMILIES WHO RELY ON SCHOOL FOOD DISTRIBUTION PROGRAMS

~ USDA currently requires that children accompany their parents to distribution sites, potentially putting them at risk for COVID-19 ~

WASHINGTON  Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to waive a requirement that needlessly forces children including those who are immunocompromised to physically accompany their parent or guardian to a school lunch distribution site in order to receive USDA-reimbursable meals, therefore putting them at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

Current USDA regulations prohibit school districts from distributing meals to families unless the child is present. While we understand the need for this policy under normal circumstances, the current public health emergency demonstrates a clear need for flexibility in food distribution policies to ensure every child has access to a healthy meal, the Senators wrote in a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. The current policy is burdensome on families and places children at increased risk especially those who are immunocompromised. This creates a difficult situation for some families who must decide between potentially placing their children at risk of infection and skipping meals.

According to reports, Virginia families with at-risk children have already been put in the difficult position of choosing whether to seek the food assistance they need, or safeguard the health and safety of their child.

To meet the nutrition needs of all children during the current public health crisis, we request that USDA establish guidelines for states that remove the in-person requirements for families with at-risk children to reduce unnecessary exposure to COVID-19, they continued. Removing this restriction would go a long way to ensuring children in Virginia have access to healthy meals during this public health emergency and are not placed at undue risk.

In their letter, the Senators also urged USDA to do more to make sure that children in Virginia continue to have access to healthy and nutritious foods during this crisis.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Earlier this week, the Senators urged USDA to swiftly approve Virginias request to operate a Disaster Household Distribution Program, which would allow food banks to distribute USDA foods directly to Virginia families in need while limiting interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients. 

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

The Honorable Sonny Perdue 

Secretary

United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write today concerning the ongoing public health crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19 and the unprecedented nutrition challenges children in Virginia and across the country are facing. We appreciate all the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is doing to meet this unique challenge, including waiving the congregate meal requirements for child nutrition programs. However, we believe more must be done to ensure children in Virginia continue to have access to healthy and nutritious meals during this state of emergency.

Current USDA regulations prohibit school districts from distributing meals to families unless the child is present. While we understand the need for this policy under normal circumstances, the current public health emergency demonstrates a clear need for flexibility in food distribution policies to ensure every child has access to a healthy meal. The current policy is burdensome on families and places children at increased risk especially those who are immunocompromised. This creates a difficult situation for some families who must decide between potentially placing their children at risk of infection and skipping meals.

To meet the nutrition needs of all children during the current public health crisis, we request that USDA establish guidelines for states that remove the in-person requirements for families with at-risk children to reduce unnecessary exposure to COVID-19. Removing this restriction would go a long way to ensuring children in Virginia have access to healthy meals during this public health emergency and are not placed at undue risk.

Again, thank you for your attention to this matter and all you are doing to ensure children have access to healthy and nutritious foods during this challenging time. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,