Washington, D.C. —U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced the School Food Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill to help schools provide healthier meals to students across the country by authorizing a grant, loan guarantee, and technical assistance program.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of school meals for many families. Across the country, schools and nutrition programs have adapted to remote and hybrid learning models during the pandemic. They have done a tremendous job working to support the nutritional needs of students despite school closures. In addition to demonstrating the indispensable value of school nutrition, COVID-19 has further highlighted longstanding equipment needs as many schools currently lack the right tools for preparing and storing meals rich in fresh ingredients,” said Senator Collins. “Our bipartisan bill would help schools purchase equipment and provide training to allow food service personnel to offer a wide variety of nutritious meals for students.”
“We know that nutritious school meals help students focus, learn and do well in school,” said Senate Smith, a member of the Senate Agriculture and Education Committees. “We also know that nutritious school meals are critically important because they're the only meals that some children may receive in a day. During COVID-19, many school kitchens have worked hard to continue feeding students, even during remote learning. This bipartisan bill will help schools that are in need of updated kitchen equipment so they can continue serving students.”
Nearly 100,000 schools participate in the National School Lunch program, serving 30 million children each day.
The School Food Modernization Act is supported by the Maine School Nutrition Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, FoodCorps, and United Fresh Produce.
“In school nutrition the only way we typically get new equipment is either by having a whole new kitchen renovation, a new school, or after spending more money on repairs to the point where it literally cannot be fixed anymore. The margins on our budget for equipment maintenance and replacement are very tight resulting in us requiring us to go into the red. This means funds that could be used for student curriculum supports have to be diverted to pay the deficit food service incurs due high equipment repair costs. Last year in Westbrook we spent $16,000 in equipment repair despite the fact that we have one brand new kitchen and one kitchen that is 12 years old. The School Food Equipment Modernization Act is needed to help our programs replace outdated equipment and minimize repair costs in our budgets,” said Mary Emerson, MS, RD/LD, SNS, Director of School Nutrition, Westbrook, Maine.
"The COVID-19 pandemic provides even more evidence for establishing healthful eating habits at a young age, especially given its disproportionate impact on people with diet-related chronic disease,” said Linda T. Farr, RDN, CSOWM, LD, FAND, President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “For schools to have the ability to provide nutritious meals and help children establish those healthful habits, they need optimally functioning kitchen equipment and appropriate training called for in the School Food Modernization Act.”
“School Nutrition Programs from Maine and from across the country have been significantly impacted by this pandemic. Many are struggling financially for a number of reasons, but primarily from decreased participation due to less students present in school for in person learning. Before the pandemic, our need for equipment was significant. Now, equipment upgrades are more necessary than ever as serving models have shifted and fund balances have evaporated. I am thrilled that my Senator understands the importance that school nutrition programs play in fueling children for success and that she is introducing legislation that can help address the equipment and infrastructure needs of school meal programs across the country,” said Jeanne Reilly, NDTR, SNS, School Nutrition Policy and Advocacy Liaison of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Director of School Nutrition at Windham Raymond School Department.
“Covid-19 demonstrated that our nation's schools are essential in not only educating students, but also feeding them nourishing meals. School meals are at the core of a student having their best shot at learning to the best of their ability. When schools shut down, kitchens stayed open, providing healthy meals at the height of the pandemic. Now is the time to reinvest in schools, supporting them in serving fresh, delicious foods that help kids thrive in school,” said Mamiko Vuillemin, Sr. Manager of Policy and Advocacy, FoodCorps.
"United Fresh Produce Association appreciates Senators Collins and Smith's leadership on this important effort. Now more than ever we know how important it is that our school children eat healthy meals with lots of fruits and vegetables. School kitchens must have the appropriate equipment to be able to provide children the foods they need," said Robert Guenther, Senior Vice President, United Fresh.
Many schools built decades ago often lack the infrastructure and equipment necessary to prepare meals with fresh ingredients and must rely on workarounds that are expensive, inefficient, and unsustainable. The School Food Modernization Act would address this by:
• Providing targeted grant assistance for the seed funding needed to upgrade kitchen infrastructure or to purchase high-quality equipment such as commercial ovens, steamers, and stoves;
• Establishing a loan guarantee assistance program within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help schools acquire new equipment to prepare and serve healthier meals; 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.