Bordallo, Plaskett Introduce Parity Bill for Meals to Islands’ Needy Schoolchildren
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswomen Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam) and Stacey E. Plaskett (D-USVI) introduced the Federal School Meals Parity Act (H.R.6132), which seeks to increase federal support for K-12 schools on Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) in-school meal and child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.
These USDA programs provide nutritionally balanced meals to needy schoolchildren either for free or at low-cost each school day, including breakfast, lunch, and afterschool snacks. For more than 30 million underserved American schoolchildren, including those on Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, these USDA programs often provide their only well-balanced or full meal of the day. According to the most recent figures, 17,792 Guam students received federally subsidized school lunches and 9,397 Guam students received federally subsidized school breakfasts in fiscal year 2017. 9,588 Virgin Island students received federally subsidized school lunches and 3,243 Virgin Island students received federally subsidized school breakfasts in fiscal year 2017. The above figures include territorial students attending Guam’s on-base schools operated by the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA).
However, current USDA regulations reimburse Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands at the rate for the 48 mainland states whereas Alaska, Hawai’i, and Puerto Rico receive higher reimbursement rates. According to USDA, the higher reimburses rates for these states and territory reflect higher costs of living and of delivering these federal child nutrition programs in those outlying jurisdictions. The two other U.S. territories, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, do not currently participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs and instead receive their annual USDA funding from Nutrition Assistance Block Grants.
Both Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have higher costs of living, lower household incomes, and higher unemployment than the mainland United States. That is why Congresswomen Bordallo and Plaskett’s bill would require that USDA reimburse Guam on parity with its peer jurisdictions—Alaska and Hawai’i—and reimburse the U.S. Virgin Islands at the same higher rate as neighboring Puerto Rico. According to USDA estimates, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands would each receive $3 million to $4 million in additional USDA funding each year under the Bordallo-Plaskett bill.
Under the Federal School Meals Parity Act (H.R.6132), all schools on Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands would receive additional federal funding to provide more in-school, nutritious meals to needy students. The Bordallo-Plaskett bill would also direct the USDA complete a report comparing the costs of providing in-school meals to students in the mainland 48 states, the outlying states of Alaska and Hawai’i, and all 5 U.S. territories.
Also today, Congresswomen Bordallo and Plaskett sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, requesting an explanation for the current mainland reimbursement rate applied to Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands under USDA’s in-school meal and child nutrition programs. The Congresswomen’s letter also asks the Secretary of Agriculture to consider increasing Guam’s and the U.S. Virgin Islands’ reimbursement rates, under the current regulatory process.
In the meantime, Congresswoman Bordallo and Plaskett continue to make ensuring parity for Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands under USDA’s in-school meal and child nutrition programs a top priority.
“Nearly 18,000 students on Guam receive federal school meals, and for many, these USDA programs often provide their only well-balanced or full meal of the day. Our bill would ensure that Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands are reimbursed fairly under the USDA’s in-school meal and child nutrition programs to more accurately reflect the higher costs of living on our islands. This would give our school systems each between $3 and $4 million more a year in federal funding, at a time when GovGuam faces budget shortfalls. I thank Congresswoman Plaskett for joining me in introducing this bill, and I look forward to working with her to advance it this year.”
June 19, 2018
The Honorable Sonny Perdue
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Perdue,
We request respectfully that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reconsider the reimbursement rates for Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, under in-school meal and child nutrition programs. Our territories are the only two outlying jurisdictions participating in the National School Lunch Program reimbursed at the continental United States rate.
At present, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico receive more favorable reimbursement rates under the national school lunch, breakfast, special milk, and afterschool snack programs. According to USDA, these reimbursement rates reflect higher costs of delivering in-school meals and child nutrition programs in those jurisdictions, among other factors. We agree, wholeheartedly, that all outlying jurisdictions facing higher costs should be reimbursed at higher rates than the mainland United States. Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands share the challenge of higher costs of living, fewer locally available resources, and greater percentages of schoolchildren from underserved households, than the mainland United States.
We appreciate that USDA has an established process whereby a state or territory may submit documentation seeking an increase in their reimbursement rate. However, it is our understanding that recent successful applications have only been submitted with the help of hired outside consultants, at considerable expense to the local department of education. The Guam Department of Education (GDOE) and the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE) already struggle to meet the needs of our students, given local budgetary constraints. As such, hiring additional outside consultants remains cost prohibitive at this time.
Today, we introduced legislation in the House, the Federal School Meals Parity Act (H.R.6132) which seeks fair reimbursement for Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands under USDA’s National School Lunch Program and other in-school meal and child nutrition programs. While we continue working in Congress to ensure parity for Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, we hope that you will reevaluate our territories’ current reimbursement rates and make the necessary adjustments that more adequately reflects the costs in our jurisdictions. Thank you for considering our request. We look forward to your response.
MADELEINE Z. BORDALLO STACEY E. PLASKETT
Member of Congress Member of Congress