School nutrition experts will lobby Congress this week for help to allow more districts to provide meals to students during a Legislative Action Conference.
When Cheryl Pick started her school nutrition career decades ago in Foley, Minnesota, she didn't think her industry would face the challenges it does since the pandemic began.
“We’re still facing economic challenges, with increasing costs, having the staff shortages, menu item shortages from manufacturers” explains Pick. “Because, before it's like you didn't hear of the shortages.”
Now Pick, who is president of the Minnesota School Nutrition Association, joins others from across the country before Congress this week to ask for help.
“They want us to do more, sometimes with these different standards that we get, it's really hard with what's out there now,” Pick says. “Can we succeed in that?”
While school meals may be covered in Minnesota, she hopes to help other districts get the help they need too.
“Here in Foley, I’m very fortunate that I am fully staffed,” says Pick. “So we do, to help with our costs and stuff, we do a lot of scratch cooking.”
With school funding in jeopardy, the extra food costs would fall on school districts if it isn’t continued by the Federal Government. With so many students food insecure across the country and in Minnesota, Pick says there is a lot of concern.
“We can’t afford to lose additional reimbursement rates Congress provided this school year,” Pick tells WCCO. “We got an extra 40 cents for lunch, an extra 15 cents for breakfast, however that expires June 30th.
Can they keep that going for us?”
The DFL controlled House in Minnesota has also passed a no-cost school meals bill along party lines. The bill calls for $200 million a year making school breakfasts and lunches available to all students at no cost in Minnesota.
Congress provided free school meals to all students for two school years during the pandemic, but that funding stopped last year. Five states are have now passed bills making meals free for their students this school year, and two of them are doing so permanently. A third, Colorado, will join them next year after voters approved a ballot measure.
Minnesota Fifth District Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D) along with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (D) have been outspoken in their support of free breakfast and lunch for all students in school, with Omar sponsoring a bill called the "Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021”. which would make the free meals permanent. That bill has faced an uphill climb in the GOP-controlled Congress, with Republicans saying that not all students need the assistance.