Updated: September 27, 2022
US Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) led the entire Hawaiʻi Congressional Delegation in urging the US Department of Agriculture to extend pandemic-related child nutrition waivers through Sept. 30, 2023.
The waivers have provided school districts and nonprofit organizations with the flexibility they need to keep children fed over the past two years, according to Sen. Hirono. Originally established by Congress at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the waivers are currently scheduled to expire on June 30, 2022, potentially forcing thousands of children and families back into food insecurity, she said.
In a letter sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the lawmakers highlighted the impact these waivers have had on children and families in Hawaiʻi throughout the pandemic and the potential consequences if they are not extended:
“By further extending pandemic-related child nutrition waivers through Sept. 30, 2023, USDA would ensure school districts and nonprofits have continued flexibility to feed students through next year. Failure to extend these waivers could force thousands of children and families back into food insecurity overnight, an avoidable and unacceptable outcome.”
Since their creation, these waivers have allowed students at Hawaiʻi’s 257 public schools to get free meals. Unless the waivers are extended, students would once again be forced to pay for their meals after the end of the current school year, which would be a huge burden for families still recovering from the pandemic, according to a press release issued by Sen. Hirono.
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, Hawaiʻi had the second highest rate of child food insecurity in the nation in 2021.
In Hawaiʻi, organizations like Kaukau 4 Keiki have utilized these waivers to provide hundreds of thousands of meals to children. In just a two-month period from June to July 2021, Kaukau 4 Keiki provided 700,000 meals to children and families in need. Without an extension of these waivers, Kaukau 4 Keiki and other organizations like it may be forced to cease operation, according to Sen. Hirono.