By Eric A. Aft CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC August 26, 2020
NOTE: Updates to our initial call to action are pasted in below this piece from our CEO.
The last few months have been hard and continue to be devastating for people in our community who have lost loved ones, their ability to earn a living or even both. But difficult times often bring out the best in people. We’ve seen this come to life at Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina.
The support of National Guard members, deployed in the early days of the pandemic, was critical to our food bank’s ability to strengthen our work and implement new strategies to reach those in need; giving us extra hands to change the way we work that protected the safety of our staff, food assistance partners, volunteers, and people coming to our network for help.
The North Carolina National Guard members deployed to Second Harvest Food Bank were called away from their families to help fight a very real adversary – exploding food insecurity. Many people may be surprised that this is a challenge that many of our soldiers face themselves.
Approximately seven percent of active duty military families face food insecurity and nine percent have sought food assistance at a food pantry during the past year. Our nation has an obligation to ensure that the individuals who protect our country have the resources to consistently and reliably access adequate nutritious food to feed themselves and their families.
When COVID-19 hit and many schools closed, far too many children (and their parents) experienced worry and concern over whether there would be enough to eat, as access to the National Free- and Reduced-Price Lunch program was disrupted. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed leadership by allowing Second Harvest Food Bank and other emergency food assistance organizations flexibility to safely provide meals for children where they could be reached – whether through drive throughs at schools, churches, recreation centers, or other community sites closer to children’s homes.
This leadership is needed again, as most students will not be at school five days a week this fall. Second Harvest Food Bank is asking the USDA to act with urgency to extend all child nutrition waivers to the end of this school year. Without these flexibilities from USDA, all of us should be deeply concerned about whether and how the more than 50 percent of children who participate in federal nutrition programs in school will access the food they need to support their ability to learn.
Our nation has a moral obligation and vested interest in ensuring that our children – all children – can reliably access the food they need to stay healthy, to learn, and to reach their potential.
Recent administrative actions fall well short of what will be necessary to help the families coming to our partner food pantries for food assistance. We understand that congressional and administration leaders will not be coming back to the negotiating table until September. This delay is undoubtedly creating hardship for many area families, as they face smaller unemployment checks, a growing number of unpaid bills, and an uncertain timeline for additional assistance.
We need your help to ensure that our military families and our children have adequate access to the nutritious food they need. Please contact your members of Congress today and ask them to:
1. Include the Basic Needs Allowance in the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill to assist these service members and their families.
2. Contact USDA and request the child nutrition waivers authorized in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Bill be extended through this school year.
Honoring those who serve our country by giving them the resources to care for their basic needs should not even be a question we have to ask – let’s correct this situation now. Making sure that all children can access the good nutrition vital to their health and well-being is the right thing. And it is the smart thing, because their success will impact our collective future and success of our nation.
UPDATE September 14, 2020
On August 31, USDA extended several key waivers which allow the continued operation of the Summer Nutrition Programs through December 31, 2020. While this is an important first step, it is critical that USDA extends these waivers through June 30, 2021.
Schools and community sponsors need consistency and time in order to effectively plan and implement meal service. Requiring school nutrition directors and community sponsors to switch from one program to another on January 1st will only result in confusion for families, as well as disruptions to meal access at a time when child hunger continues to grow.
The Feeding America network of Food Banks, including Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest N, joins The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), Afterschool Alliance, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Feeding America, the School Nutrition Association, Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign, and YMCA of the USA, in asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to act before September 30th and extend critical nationwide child nutrition program waivers through the rest of the school year.
UPDATE September 23, 2020
House of Representatives Takes Important Steps to Address Childhood Hunger in Continuing Resolution
The House of Representatives has passed a Continuing Resolution that will go a long way in addressing childhood hunger, which has grown to even more alarming rates during COVID-19.
The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program (P-EBT), which provides families an EBT card to purchase food to replace the school meals their children are missing while learning remotely, has been extended through Fiscal Year 2021. Since its implementation, families have shared the importance of P-EBT, saying it has lifted the burden of choosing between feeding their families and paying the bills.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s authority to issue child nutrition waivers also has been extended through Fiscal Year 2021 to help mitigate the impact of millions of children losing access to free and reduced-price school meals as schools remain shuttered due to the pandemic. The Department also was given the authority to extend WIC administrative waivers including waiving the requirement for in-person WIC clinic visits through September 30, 2021.
In addition, the Continuing Resolution provides state Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) agencies with needed flexibilities to adjust operations during COVID-19. It allows states, without obtaining prior USDA approval, to opt for many of the waivers that were made available earlier in COVID-19. These include waivers on deadlines for SNAP interviews, participant reporting, and eligibility recertifications. During a challenging time of remote program operations and increased need for benefits, these adjustments will help ease workload burdens on agencies and streamline SNAP access for people eligible for SNAP.
While the Continuing Resolution’s temporary investments are an important step for children who are learning remotely or in a hybrid learning model or in child care, millions of families are still struggling.