Inhofe and King Cosponsor School Lunch Price Protection Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U. S. Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Angus King (I-Maine) on Tuesday introduced the School Lunch Price Protection Act (S.1805), which would prevent School Food Authorities (SFAs) from being forced to raise meal prices when a school's program is financially solvent, a federal mandate known as Paid Lunch Equity. 

“School districts have seen a decline in full-price lunch participation and many attribute this to some families no longer being able to afford to pay the rising costs,” Inhofe said. For those families that already find themselves under financial strain, raising prices could potentially mean the difference between their children getting a healthy meal that day or going without. Our legislation keeps Washington from forcing our schools to raise lunch prices when there is no need to and returns this important decision-making power back to state and local school districts.”

“In many cases, school lunches are the only healthy, wholesome meal that students are able to have during the day,” King said. “Raising the prices of those meals when it’s not necessary can end up making them too expensive for families who are already struggling financially. Parents shouldn’t have to worry about whether rules out of Washington are going to make it more difficult for them to feed their kids. By fixing federal law to prevent price increases at schools with solvent nutrition  programs, our bill will help ensure that students will continue to have access to affordable meals and can remain focused on their education.”

Current regulations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture require SFAs participating in the National School Lunch Program to ensure sufficient funds are provided to the nonprofit school food service account for meals served to students not eligible for free or reduced price meals. There are two ways to meet this requirement: either through the prices charged for “paid” meals or through other non-Federal sources provided to the nonprofit school food service account.

The School Lunch Price Protection Act would make the Paid Lunch Equity mandate only applicable to SFAs that have a negative balance in their nonprofit school food service account from the previous school year.

“The School Nutrition Association strongly supports the School Lunch Price Protection Act,” Patricia Montague, CAE, CEO of School Nutrition Association, said. “Schools want more students to eat healthy school lunches, but Paid Lunch Equity prices some families out of the school lunch program at a time when many Americans are struggling to make ends meet. Declining lunch participation also reduces revenue for schools struggling to cover the higher cost of meeting new nutrition standards. School meal programs that are financially solvent should not be forced to raise school lunch prices.”

“We are very supportive of the School Lunch Price Protection Act authored by Sen. Inhofe addressing  Paid Lunch Equity.” Debbie Hamilton, executive director of Child Nutrition Programs for the Oklahoma Department of Education, said. “The legislation would require only those School Food Authorities (SFA) with a negative fund balance to raise prices per the Paid Lunch Equity (PLE) tool.  If the tool stays in effect as the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act now stipulates, even the SFAs  with excess carryover funds must, in most cases, raise the meals prices to attempt to meet the USDA required prices.  This has led to burdensome paperwork for school districts and declined participation in the full price program. We thank Sen. Inhofe for his leadership on this issue.”

“Oklahoma City School Nutrition Services is very grateful to Sen. Inhofe for introducing the School Lunch Price Protection Act,” Deborah S Taylor, RDN/LD, SNS associate director of School Nutrition Services for Oklahoma City Public Schools, said. “The Paid Lunch Equity Report is very complex and originally took days to complete. Requiring this report every single year is extremely burdensome to our school districts and we are excited to see that this legislation would reduce this unnecessary paperwork. Currently, every district is forced to increase meal prices even if they do not need to.  In other words, if a School Food Authority runs an efficient operation, their students find themselves punished with increased prices. This bill would allow SFAs with a positive fund balance to keep their meal prices the same. We are very supportive of this legislation.”

“As a Director of a Child Nutrition Program for a district with 67% low income, I believe it is up to our district to determine what we should charge for the full-priced meals,” Jeff Denton, legislative and public policy chair, School Nutrition Association of Oklahoma, said. “We know our students and families and know the threshold at which they can pay. By mandating equity, we causing families to not participate in the program because of the financial burden. I applaud Sen. Inhofe for introducing this piece of legislation.”

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