Congressman Joe Morelle joined Foodlink officials on Wednesday, Sept. 7, to help mark the start of Hunger Action Month and the new school year by taking action to increase food accessibility, lower costs for families, and combat child hunger in Rochester. Morelle highlighted legislation he co-sponsors to provide free school meals to all children, regardless of income, and give schools the tools and resources they need to ensure no child goes hungry.
“September is Hunger Action Month, a critical time to redouble our commitment to combating the hunger crisis and ensuring families have reliable access to healthy meals. Children cannot learn if they’re worried about where their next meal is coming from—which is why I’m co-sponsoring legislation to provide free school meals for all children,” said Congressman Joe Morelle. “Taking action to reduce food insecurity shouldn’t be a political statement—it’s a moral obligation. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass this critical legislation, and continuing to work with organizations like Foodlink to uplift children and families in our community.”
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“Now is the time to rethink our nation’s approach to addressing food insecurity, and specifically how we nourish our children,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink. “We commend Congressman Morelle for supporting Universal School Meals, and other legislation that expands access to healthy food. We hope that Hunger Action Month — along with the upcoming White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health — will give us the momentum we need to drive change and implement bold, equitable changes to our food system.”
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congressman Morelle helped pass legislation to allow 90% of school nutrition departments to offer free school meals to all students. Unfortunately, those provisions have now expired, making this the first school year since 2020 where many families have had to pay for school meals. That means students from homes with incomes just above 130 percent of the poverty line—only $34,450 for a family of four—will not be able to receive free meals at school.
With supply chain challenges causing high prices across the country, now is not the time to put this additional financial burden on families. That’s why Congressman Morelle is co-sponsoring the Universal School Meals Program Act and Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act to:
- Permanently provide free meals to all school children, regardless of their family’s income level;
- Expand summer food service opportunities;
- Preserve the future of school meal programs by increasing the reimbursement rate for lunch;
- Improve school meal capacity and sustainability by providing grants to purchase kitchen equipment;
Tedesco urged the federal government to learn from the pandemic, and how the programs enacted to lift millions of Americans out of poverty did just that. This September is when many federal waivers associated with school or summer meal service have expired, resulting in less access to healthy meals in communities that rely on them.
“We’re now at a critical juncture,” Tedesco said. “With many proven policy changes set to expire as children return to school, we ask why it’s acceptable to revert back to pre-pandemic rates of food insecurity. It is not acceptable that more than 43,000 kids in our region are often uncertain about when or where they will get their next meal.”
Chief Partnerships & Strategy Officer Mitch Gruber also spoke about Foodlink’s engagement with more school districts throughout its 10-county service area to ensure children and families can more easily connect with the resources they need.
“One thing that became incredibly clear during the last two-and-a-half years, was how absolutely vital schools are as community resource hubs,” Gruber said. “Even when they were closed, people still went to schools for COVID testing, vaccinations and other resources — and very often, food.”
Jay Roscup, the Director of Community Schools in Wayne County, highlighted one example of a school partnership that developed and flourished in the past couple years. Roscup helps coordinate both a school pantry that launched during the last school year within the Sodus Central School District, and three Pop-up Pantry locations throughout the county. The partnership with Foodlink and the additional food assistance provided to the community resulted in a noticeable increase in food security, according to surveys, he said.
“It is important that we do not go back (to the way things were),” Roscup said. “We can and we must continue to identify needs and organize responses together. I want to thank Foodlink so much for being mindful of not just where they are physically centered, but at the whole region and how they are actively engaging and reaching out to see what we need.”