Tester Fights for Montana’s Children, Families in School Meal Bill
The Support Kids Not Red Tape Act extends flexibilities for schools and meal programs to provide food to Montana children
As a part of his continued effort to lower costs for Montana families and provide nutritious meals for children, U.S. Senator Jon Tester recently introduced his Support Kids Not Red Tape Act to extend United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) flexibility for school meals.
“Students in Montana should be focused on learning, not where their next meal is coming from,” said Tester. “The flexibility provided in this legislation will ensure that children will continue to receive nutritious meals, while avoiding red tape for local schools so they can spend their time ensuring students are prepared for the future.”
Tester’s legislation will extend USDA flexibility granted in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act for an additional two summers and the 2022-2023 school year. This will allow school meal program operators to continue feeding children at no cost to parents. Additionally, the legislation provides support for Montana schools by easing burdensome paperwork requirements, increasing meal program reimbursement, and giving schools flexibility when dealing with supply chain shortages. Without passage of Tester’s legislation, USDA flexibility is set to expire on June 30, 2022.
“If anything, good came out of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it did teach us how to reach and serve meals to kids,” said Action Inc. Chief Operating Officer, Connie Tenes-Daniels. “Taking these waivers away will mean that many children, not only in Butte, Montana, but all across the United State will go hungry. Pre-pandemic, Action Inc. was providing 16,000 meals during the Summer Meals Program. Because of the collaboration and work with the Butte School District, Action Inc. provided 68,624 meals for children in 2020 and 57,111 meals in 2021. This was only possible because of these waivers.”
“During the pandemic, the waivers and free meals have allowed us to feed many hungry kids here in Butte,” said Butte School District #1 Director of Central Services, Kurt Marthaller. “Removing the waivers will hit many Butte families hard, and with inflation and gas prices on the rise, removing waivers would compound the stress families have to take on during this tough time. Our meals served are up 23% for lunch and 45% for breakfast compared to pre-COVID numbers – and that alone tells me we’re are feeding kids that need it. These waivers and free meals are critical to making sure no kid goes hungry in this community and in this country.”
USDA waivers have provided certainty and stability for Montana schools, families, and children throughout the duration of the pandemic, cutting costs and providing consistent healthy meals. This bill allows children to continue receiving meals in flexible ways, such as being able to pick up a week’s worth of meals, or having meals delivered to their home on school busses. It also allows children in rural communities to continue receiving meals where they are with the help of community organizations.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tester has been working diligently alongside Montanans to help ensure families can keep food on the table. Last Spring he secured a USDA food assistance extension for 30 million American children through the summer through the American Rescue Plan. He pushed back against a Trump Administration decision to rip SNAP benefits away from 700,000 Americans, and he secured extended SNAP benefits for Montanans during the COVID-19 pandemic. He successfully pushed USDA to disburse $38 million in Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) purchasing funds to help Tribal communities combat food insecurity, and he secured $1.2 million for Montana food banks to provide low-income and elderly populations with access to nutrition assistance.