Actual Villain Mitch McConnell Is Working To Block Universal Free School Meals
In the spring of 2020, when schools (and everything else) were shutting down, the US Department of Agriculture funded a nationwide school meal voucher program designed to make sure children remained fed during the pandemic.
That program is set to expire in June unless it’s renewed as part of a larger spending bill. According to Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich, that provision is “fairly noncontroversial, even bipartisan.” Who wouldn’t want to make sure kids had access to nutritious meals?
You already know the answer to that, I bet. It’s Mitch McConnell.
Evich says McConnell is “forcefully opposing” the provision to extend the waivers that have allowed schools to keep kids fed during the pandemic, which is just the kind of real-life villain behavior we’d expect from the Senate Minority Leader.
The argument (besides straight villainy) seems to be that ending the waivers supports the Republican plan to pretend like the pandemic is over.
“These were designed as ‘temporary’ Covid measures,” a GOP senior leadership aide told Evich—a sentiment that was also echoed to CNN. “Parents and Republicans are for reopening our schools. Many of these waivers were designed to encourage schools to close and go virtual. This is not a message we should be sending to schools at this point, when almost everyone agrees we should be returning to normal.”
Except things are not normal and it’s bad enough to pretend otherwise when we’re talking about defunding testing operations or declaring it fine for everyone to lose the masks. But now McConnell wants to let kids potentially go hungry in order to send a symbolic “message.”
Also, while these waivers may have been designed to be temporary, they also shined a light on some problems needing fixing. They made sure children were receiving food even though they were learning remotely. They allowed food programs to extend to more children in need. (Without the waivers, summer food programs are only available in areas where 50% or more of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. With the waivers, they’re available to children everywhere and it sounds like families are not required to verify their income to qualify.)
Those services were meant to be temporary but why go back to a broken system? (Republicans will say it’s because the program is too expensive. I would guess it’s more because Biden and Democrats like this plan. Both are terrible answers.)
On top of all of this, while Republicans may be focused on pretending COVID-19 is a thing of the past, there are other major forces impacting the school meal pipelines and making these waivers necessary.
“School nutrition program operators have been optimistically assuming that the waivers would get extended one more school year to help them transition back to normal, as supply chains are wrecked, food costs are up sharply and staffing is so low it’s approaching crisis levels,” Evich writes.
Some 92% of school meal programs are experiencing challenges due to supply chain disruptions, according to a USDA survey released last week. Products are not available, orders are arriving with missing or substituted items, and shortages of cooks, food prep personnel, drivers and maintenance staff continue. This is forcing schools to pay more for food and for workers.”
They are really relying on these higher reimbursement rates to cover these new, higher costs,” said [School Nutrition Association spokeswoman Diane] Pratt-Heavner, noting that the shortages are expected to last into the next school year.
But I suppose to McConnell, none of that is as important as his #1 goal of owning the libs.
(image: Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
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