Virginia rep. steps in to protect reliable access to school meals; Newport News mom weighs in on effort

Healthy meals in schools.png
Posted at 5:08 PM, Feb 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 12:35:49-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Schools throughout Hampton Roads continue to face the challenges of navigating through COVID-19, one of those being meals. But there's now a push in Congress to make sure kids continue to have access to healthy meals.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger introduced legislation Monday that would give schools in Virginia increased flexibility to continue serving meals to students efficiently, starting by extending the U.S Department of Agriculture's Child Nutrition Waiver authority into 2023.

Newport News parents like Sajada Lewis said they do not want to see waivers expire in June.

"Because of COVID, we don't know what's going to happen, and I think it's been a great benefit to a lot of families and even to the community," said Lewis.

The extended child nutrition program waivers allow schools to ensure children have access to free meals at schools and sites for grab-and-go and pick-up lunches through June, regardless of their ability to pay. But currently, all waivers expire at the end of this year.

"We do depend on school lunches, and it's a great blessing and benefit for my household," said Lewis.

News 3 reporter Kelsey Jones reached out to Congresswoman Spanberger to discuss her legislation, called the Keeping School Meals Flexible Act. Although she was not available for an interview Wednesday, she said supply chain issues have left schools scrambling to find new vendors when orders are short or delayed, impacting the students.

No Kid Hungry Virginia Director Sarah Steely said, "Keeping waivers in place for another year would give organizations stability and are helpful for meal sites working to reach rural and hard-toreach communities."

"It would be something I think that would hurt a little, but we could rebuild another way. But this has been a great benefit, so I would hate to see it go," said Lewis.

According to school nutrition leaders, last year, 14 million meals were given to kids as a result of the waivers.

Congresswoman Spanberger's legislation has bipartisan support, but it still has a ways to go. Leaders said the focus right now is on gathering more co-sponsors and getting it through the committee.

Related: How local school cafeterias are adjusting to supply chain issues