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Spanberger helps protect farmers and school meals, avoid government shutdown
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Spanberger helps protect farmers and school meals, avoid government shutdown

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As part of lawmakers’ effort to avert a U.S. government shutdown, Rep. Abigail Spanberger has voted with a bipartisan majority of House members to continue helping children access school lunch and breakfast programs.

Spanberger voted Tuesday night to pass a short-term agreement that would keep the federal government open and funded through Dec. 11, 2020.

The bipartisan deal includes language from an amendment the Virginia legislator cosponsored to protect kids’ access to school meals.

Sponsored by Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the Operation Feed Our Kids Act would ensure that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has money and authority to continue providing nutrition waivers through 2021 so children have nutritious meals amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m proud to stand alongside my colleague, Congressman Davis, in moving forward our common-sense, bipartisan amendment, which would ensure USDA has the authority to reduce red tape and allow schools to have the flexibility they need to keep our students fed,” Spanberger said in a statement Wednesday. “No child in Central Virginia should go hungry, and during this moment of uncertainty, we must do everything on our power to protect and expand access to school lunch and breakfast programs.”

Davis’ amendment, H.R. 8325, would give schools the flexibility and support they need to continue their lunch and breakfast programs. Right now, that USDA authority will expire at the end of September.

In addition to helping schools, the authority also waives meal-pattern requirements and allows child-care and adult-care centers to feed people who aren’t gathered together in one place because of public-health precautions to avoid infecting others with the novel coronavirus.

In Culpeper, more than half of the county’s schoolchildren depend daily on the public schools’ program providing free and reduced-price meals.

Throughout Central Virginia, many schoolchildren depend on school meals for reliable nutrition.

Locally, Culpeper public schools and the county Department of Social Services created curbside meal pickup sites so children stay properly fed during the COVID-19 crisis.

The school-meals amendment’s original co-sponsors are Reps. Spanberger, Don Bacon (R-NE), and Jim Costa (D-CA). Also co-sponsoring are Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), TJ Cox (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), John B. Larson (D-CT), Kendra Horn (D-OK), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D-MA), Grace Meng (D-CA), and Paul Cook (R-CA).

Tuesday’s funding deal also would provide nearly $8 billion for nutrition assistance programs, and stronger oversight of Commodity Credit Corporation spending, which underpins the federal safety net for farmers.

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On Wednesday, National Farmers Union President Rob Larew commended the House resolution and urged the Senate to quickly pass its own stopgap funding bill.

Larew urged senators to “adopt the House’s provisions that would help hungry families and schoolchildren access food, offer congressional oversight of farm assistance spending, and prevent oil corporations from taking advantage of Commodity Credit Corporation funds.”

Before Spanberger and bipartisan allies intervened, the continuing resolution written to keep the government running did not continue the $30 billion Commodity Credit fund that helps farmers and ranchers in economic emergencies.

On Monday, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall expressed his disappointment that Congress hadn’t struck a deal to replenish money for the Commodity Credit Corporation.

“Without immediate CCC replenishment, programs laid out in the farm bill, including conservation and rural development, as well as supplemental funding for nutrition programs, are all at risk,” Duvall said. “We strongly encourage members of Congress to put their differences aside in order to address the needs of rural America.”

Spanberger pushed to extend the Commodity Credit Corporation’s borrowing authority after House leadership threatened to exclude the funding, which alarmed farm and ranching groups. Her effort succeeded, and would get relief to American farmers, crop producers and agribusinesses amid the pandemic.

“As U.S. producers grapple with extreme weather conditions, trade concerns, and COVID-19, the last thing we should do is threaten to pull funding from critical farm safety net programs,” the freshman Democrat said. “... I’m glad that a bipartisan agreement was reached to avoid another reckless government shutdown, keep important federal programs funded, and strengthen food assistance to hungry children and families.”

Spanberger has fought attempts to cut federal aid to crop and livestock producers.

In 2019, when House leaders considered an end to funding Market Facilitation Payments, she helped protect the program, which provides financial assistance to farmers affected by the administration’s trade wars, her office said.

Now, Spanberger emphasized Wednesday, both parties in the House must focus on producing a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package for families, workers and businesses who are struggling.

“In this time of crisis, our priority must be to deliver assistance and support to the people we serve,” she said.

Spanberger has tackled other COVID-caused food-security issues in Central Virginia.

In April, she pressed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on how his department was responding to food banks’ urgent shortages.

Also that month, Spanberger helped fix USDA guidance that blocked parents from picking up school meals without having to bring immunocompromised children along.

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Clint Schemmer, a journalist since 1980, has worked at papers in California, North Carolina and Virginia. He’s been a bureau chief, editorial-page editor, copy desk chief and local news editor. Now a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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