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Waiver elimination may create food service issues due to supply chain
Manteca Unified trustees Eric Duncan and Kathy Howe prepare their plates during a demonstration lunch line at Wednesday’s school board workshop.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Department of Agriculture issued several nationwide federal waivers, including temporary flexibilities to certain regulatory requirements of Child Nutrition Programs, according to the California Department of Education.

As California School Nutrition Association members, the local chapter – CSNA Chapter 45-Mother Lode – voted to send Laura Howe (Manteca Unified) and Pearl Lo (Ripon Unified), Child Nutrition Professionals from San Joaquin County, to the School Nutrition Association’s Legislative Action Conference in Washington DC, March 5-8, to advocate for school nutrition programs.

As Executive Board Members of CSNA Chapter 45-Mother Lode, they attend quarterly meetings with other school food and industry partners to discuss and improve school nutrition.

At the Legislative Action Conference, they sided with over 600 other nutrition professionals and food industry leaders in advocating for an extension of the USDA waivers for school nutrition programs.

“Despite our efforts, the waiver extensions were not included in the omnibus spending bill,” Lo said.

There were multiple reasons for the waiver requests.

The local representatives cited national supply chain disruptions and labor shortages as “having severely impacted the financial and operational sustainability” of the school meal programs.

This often results in schools not getting what they ordered on trucks for their menus.

School nutrition programs must adhere to guidelines set forth by the USDA. Offering 5 meal components at lunch, including fruit, various vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein while limiting calories, saturated fat, and sodium intake, is difficult with a strained supply chain.

Lo noted that an extension of the waiver would have allowed schools to offer alternative food options.

“With the waivers in place, we could utilize enriched grains when whole grains were unavailable. If we couldn't get broccoli to meet the dark green vegetable requirement, we could substitute it with carrots,” she said.

Howe added: “Another benefit of the waivers was that parents or siblings could pick up food for students that were not on campus.

“This summer, school districts will only be able to serve children that are present, and they’re not permitted to take that food home. This will also affect students that are still learning remotely. Currently, districts can offer curbside service for those students, and they will no longer be able to next school year.”