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Hirono Expresses Support for USDA Proposal to Expand Access to Healthy, Free School Meals for Students Nationwide

Since Hawaii adopted the program in 2014, it has helped expand access to free school meals for 48,900 students at 106 schools across the state

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) sent a letter to Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), expressing her strong support for the agency’s proposed rule that would expand access to healthy, free school meals for students across the country. The proposed rule would update the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a program that enables schools or school districts to provide free school meals to all of their students. Since Hawaii adopted the program in 2014, it has helped expand access to free school meals for 48,900 students at 106 schools across the state.

“Last year, the Food Research and Action Center reported that 16.2 million children attend 33,300 schools that have adopted CEP, including 48,900 children who attend 106 schools in Hawaii,” wrote Senator Hirono in her letter. “The administration’s proposal to further expand access to healthy meals through CEP would ensure more students from working and middle class families are fed.”

The CEP was created through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Currently, through this program, schools or school districts can provide access to free school meals for all of their students if a certain percentage of their students qualify for free meals without needing to submit a household application (e.g., if students qualify for free school meals because they receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)). The proposed rule would lower the current threshold from 40 percent of students to 25 percent of students.

“USDA’s proposal represents a small but important step toward ensuring all our nation’s students have reliable access to healthy meals—regardless of where they live,” concluded Senator Hirono.

The full text of the letter is available here.

Senator Hirono has consistently worked to help ensure all keiki in Hawaii have enough to eat. Last July, she announced that Hawaii will receive $20 million in additional assistance from the USDA to help Hawaii address supply chain issues and food inflation in its school meal programs. She also helped to pass the Keeping Kids Fed Act, which provides critical funding and flexibility to get children healthy meals as schools and nonprofits continue to deal with supply chain challenges and high food prices. Senator Hirono also joined a letter calling for an extension of the USDA’s child nutrition waivers ahead of their expiration and a robust set of child nutrition priorities. Earlier that year, she signed a similar letter and cosponsored legislation to extend these waivers through next September. She also led the Hawaii delegation in urging the USDA to take whatever steps necessary to prevent thousands of children and families from being forced into food insecurity.