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Rep. Leger Fernández Secures USDA Commitment To Work To End Lunch Shaming and Improve Tribal Nutrition Programs

May 12, 2021


WASHINGTON - Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández secured USDA’s commitment to review its policies around lunch shaming in order to strengthen protections for children during today’s Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee hearing. Lunch shaming is the practice of embarrassing or singling out a child who cannot afford their school lunch--like requiring them to clean the cafeteria, wear a bracelet, or separating them from their peers. Current USDA guidance merely discourages schools from lunch shaming but does not explicitly prohibit the practice.

Leger Fernández will be introducing the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act to prohibit schools from publicly stigmatizing children who cannot afford lunch.   

The Congresswoman also pressed the Deputy Under Secretary on the actions that the USDA is taking to ensure Tribes that have been hit hard by the pandemic are getting the help they need to carry out nutrition programs. She will also be introducing the Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act to make sure Tribes can administer food nutrition programs directly. 

Excerpt on Lunch Shaming: 

Leger Fernández: I want to talk a little bit about lunch shaming, which will happen if we don't get to more universal provision of school lunches. As you know, and as the committee knows, that’s the practice of embarrassing or singling out children who can't afford the school lunch that day. [...]I wanted to ask you whether USDA currently has a policy that  explicitly prohibits lunch shaming, or is it merely guidance to discourage the practice? 

Deputy Under Secretary Dean: We require locals to have a policy. I think you actually accurately described our policy. I would really like to work with the committee so that we can do better. Children should not be put in the middle of this problem, and that’s just unacceptable, and we need to see if there’s a way that we can develop a framework so that districts just don’t do that. 

Except on Tribal Nutrition Programs:

Leger Fernández: As you’re aware there are some limitations on the ability of Tribes to administer food assistance programs. I am going to be looking at re-introduce the Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act to make sure Tribes can administer food assistance programs directly. In my experience, I worked with Tribes for 30 years, self-determination, we have found out, works really well.  Can you please describe what actions the Department of Agriculture is taking to ensure that Tribes that have been really hit hard by the pandemic - what actions is USDA taking right now  to assist with these nutrition programs and allowing the Tribes to have control they need? 

Deputy Under Secretary Dean: Thank you for the question. And I know that my staff and your staff have been talking about that bill so I look forward to the next steps on that. First off, USDA has held - I believe - two formal consultations across the agency to hear from Tribes to begin to renew our relationship and to do it in a way that respects Tribal sovereignty. We have held Tribal consultations with respect to the [Food] Redistribution Program on Indian Reservations which are Tribal alternatives to SNAP. And I’ve also done specialized stakeholder listening. It begins with hearing what the issues are and where and how our programs are being responsive. There’s been a significant amount of targeted assistance provided to Tribes [...] but clearly there’s more we can do particularly with respect to the way the relationship works.