Rep. Kristi Noem today introduced the Permanent Flexibility for School Meals Act. With this legislation in place, schools would be able to use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) research and recommendations as a resource in designing healthy breakfast and lunch options for kids, but there would be no requirement to follow the existing mandates.

“I firmly believe decisions that affect our kids are best made by those closest to our kids,” said Noem. “With a nationwide scope, federal bureaucrats have made choices for our families based on faceless statistics, boiling down their calculations into one-size-fits-all requirements. But the parents, local school administrators, school nutritionists and cooks who see our kids every day observe the real-life impact of the food that lands on our kids’ trays. It’s them that I trust with these decisions, which is ultimately what the Permanent Flexibility for School Meals Act is all about.”

In previous years, Noem had introduced legislation that would allow certain flexibility, particularly as it related to the meat, grain and sodium requirements.  This legislation goes a step further by transforming all of the USDA’s school lunch, breakfast and a la carte requirements into voluntary nutritional guidelines, giving states and local schools much-needed flexibility.

“School meal programs work best when local school boards have the flexibility to maximize resources allocated for school meal programs,” said Neil Putnam, a member of the Mitchell School Board and the Western Region Director for the National School Boards Association. “Flexibility, and not mandates and regulations, help local districts reduce food waste and costs, and increase student participation in school meal programs."

 

According to USDA estimates, school food requirements cost local school districts and states $1.22 billion in FY2015.  Meanwhile, a 2015 GAO report, which was an update to a study requested by Noem and then-Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, showed a continued decline in school meal program participation since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act took effect in 2010.  More specifically, National School Lunch Program participation declined by 1.4 million children – or 4.5 percent – between the 2010-11 school year and the 2013-14 school year.  The non-partisan agency also reported that “new federal nutrition requirements contributed to the decrease.” Prior to the 2010-11 school year, participation in the program had been increasing steadily for many years.  

“We all want our kids to be healthy and happy, but current restrictions leave many students – and their school’s budget – hungry,” said Noem.  “As a result of the Obama administration’s endless restrictions, many schools have seen participation in school meal programs decrease, food waste increase, and costs rise. Our kids deserve better. While I am grateful the Trump administration recently announced support for flexibility beyond what President Obama ever allowed, schools need full relief from the regulatory burden – and they need that relief to be granted with the certainty of law.”

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