Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) reintroduced the School Food Modernization Act today. Their bipartisan bill would establish a loan guarantee, grant, and technical assistance program to help schools provide healthier meals to students across the country.
“School meals play a vital role in the lives of our young people. In Maine, 48 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price meals based on household income. Many schools, however, lack the right tools for preparing meals rich in fresh ingredients,” said Senator Collins. “Our legislation would help schools purchase equipment and provide training to allow food service personnel to offer a wide variety of nutritious meals and snacks for students.”
“Growing up in Mantador, my mom was a school cook who helped make sure every child had a good, nutritious meal at our small rural school – and that’s not something any North Dakota student should miss out on, no matter how rural or cash-strapped their school district might be,” said Senator Heitkamp. “But too often I hear from educators across our state, especially in rural areas, about how expensive updates to their aging kitchens can be – if their schools even have kitchens at all. Study after study shows that kids who eat right and eat well do better in school. Together with Senator Collins, we’re reintroducing a commonsense, bipartisan bill to provide schools with the kitchen equipment and resources they need to serve the nutritious meals to make sure all of our kids can succeed.”
“The healthy meals we are serving look a lot like what you'll find in any modern restaurant, but in many schools a walk through the kitchen can feel like taking a step back in time,” said Melanie Lagasse, food service manager at the New Sweden Consolidated School in Aroostook County, Maine. “School meal programs live within bare-bone budgets, so helping us afford a new, reliable oven or refrigerator to hold more fresh produce means we are better able to give students the nutrition, quality and variety they deserve.”
Companion legislation was introduced in the House today by Representatives Lou Barletta (R-PA) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA). Fifty organizations sent a letter to Senators Collins and Heitkamp and Representatives Barletta and DeSaulnier in support of their bill.
Many schools built decades ago often lack the infrastructure necessary to prepare meals rich in fresh ingredients and must rely on workarounds that are expensive, inefficient, and unsustainable. The School Food Modernization Act would address this by:
- Establishing a loan guarantee assistance program within United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help schools acquire new equipment to prepare and serve healthier meals.
- Providing targeted grant assistance to provide the seed funding needed to upgrade kitchen infrastructure or to purchase high-quality equipment such as commercial ovens, steamers, and stoves; and
- Authorizing USDA to provide support on a competitive basis to highly qualified third-party trainers to develop and administer training and technical assistance, including online programs, to food service personnel.