April 18, 2022

PHOTOS: Senator Hirono Tours Kalihi Kai Elementary Cafeteria to Highlight Need to Extend Child Nutrition Flexibility Set to Expire in June

HONOLULU, HI – Today, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) visited Kalihi Kai Elementary School to meet with Hawaii Department of Education officials and discuss the need to extend flexibilities that have allowed schools to continue feeding students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, Senator Hirono co-sponsored legislation to extend these flexibilities, which are currently set to expire in June, and urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do everything in its power to extend them.

“What could be more important than making sure our kids have the food they need to learn? The child nutrition waivers Democrats in Congress created at the onset of the COVID pandemic have given schools the flexibility they need to keep students fed,” said Senator Hirono. “Today, I saw firsthand how these flexibilities are helping students and families in Hawaii as we continue to recover from the last two years. As far as I’m concerned, every child should have access to free school meals, regardless of their economic status. I’m going to do everything I can to extend these flexibilities and make free school meals a reality for all going forward.”

Since their creation in 2020, USDA Child Nutrition waivers have provided flexibilities to feed students at Hawaii’s public schools. Unless the waivers are extended, it will be much more difficult for schools to provide students with the meals they need, which would be a huge burden for families still recovering from the pandemic. The expiration of the waivers would also make it more difficult for school districts and nonprofits to feed students at a time when many are still dealing with supply chain challenges and other issues caused by the pandemic. According to the nonprofit Feeding America, Hawaii had the second highest rate of child food insecurity in the nation in 2021.

Last month, Senator Hirono joined a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act, which would:

  • Extend USDA’s authority to issue waivers from June 30, 2022 to September 30, 2023. This is simply a continuation of the authority USDA has had and exercised throughout the pandemic. This would cover this summer, as well as the full 2022-2023 school year, and summer of 2023, and create a transition plan to help schools adjust back to normal school meal operations starting October 1, 2023.
  • Direct states to submit a transition plan to USDA so that schools will be prepared and supported when transitioning back to normal National School Lunch Program operations after the increased flexibilities end.
  • Direct the Secretary to provide technical assistance to states on drafting transition plans and to School Food Authorities on meeting meal standards during the waiver period.

Photos of Senator Hirono’s visit to Kalihi Kai can be found here.