For most Kentuckians, March is a sacred time of basketball and brackets. For our school nutrition professionals and students, however, March is also the home of National School Breakfast Week and National Nutrition Month.
Throughout the pandemic, one slam dunk for kids has been the USDA Child Nutrition Programs, which ensure kids across Kentucky have access to at least two meals a day during the school year and one a day during the summer months. With almost 1 in 5 Kentucky kids not having enough to eat, these programs – such as the School Breakfast Program (SBP), National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) – are vital for the health and nutrition of Kentucky kids.
Despite how vital these programs are, we know that there are significant barriers to Kentucky kids accessing these programs, especially kids who live in rural areas. Thankfully, policymakers in both Frankfort and Washington have the opportunity to make some major wins this month for the food security and nutrition of Kentucky kids.
On the state level, the Kentucky Senate recently passed Senate Bill 151. This bill, sponsored by Senator Jason Howell, would allow Kentucky schools to use up to fifteen minutes of instructional time for students to eat breakfast in the classroom. Breakfast is often considered the most important meal of the day, yet we know that over 273,000 Kentucky kids who qualify for free and reduced meals are missing school breakfast. Senate Bill 151, and its companion bill in the House (HB 435) sponsored by Representative Steve Riley, would give schools the administrative flexibility needed to ensure students won’t miss out on a free meal or instructional time, setting students up for more academic success.
On the federal level, The Biden Administration and Congress can score a win for both child nutrition and school food departments by extending the USDA’s authority to issue child nutrition waivers into the 2022-2023 school year. These USDA child nutrition waivers have been a critical support for Kentucky students and schools throughout the pandemic, allowing schools a number of flexibilities, such as:
- Waiving the congregate meal requirement, which allows school nutrition departments to deliver summer meals to kids.
- Increasing the reimbursement for meals served, which has helped schools navigate supply chain disruptions and inflation.
- Allowing meals to be served in classrooms and at alternate times, which has helped schools keep students safe and in school throughout the pandemic.
Additionally, the current Administration and Congress has the opportunity to make several of these waivers permanent through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization process. Several bills, such as the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act that Leader McConnell is a co-sponsor of, would make waivers, such as the congregate feeding waiver, permanent.
While Kentuckians are finalizing their brackets, it is vital that policymakers in Washington and Frankfort use this month to make some major wins in the health and nutrition arenas. By passing Senate Bill 151, extending USDA Child Nutrition Waivers, and passing a Child Nutrition Reauthorization package, we can make Kentucky kids the real winners of March Madness.
Stay up-to-date on the progress of SB 151 and other bills that are good for kids on our Kentucky General Assembly Bill Tracker.