Maui News

Hawaiʻiʻs congressional delegation seeks better school meal reimbursements

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Saying the federal government has severely outdated cost estimates that are negatively impacting Hawaiʻi schools and students, Hawai’i congressional delegation called on the US Department of Agriculture to increase its meal reimbursement rate for Hawaiʻi.

Hawai’i’s U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie K. Hirono, along with U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Kai Kahele, petitioned the USDA on Friday to provide Hawai’i with a temporary increase in the school meal reimbursement rate until the agency completes the School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study-II and adjusts school meal reimbursements, according to a news release.

“We request that you exercise your authority to provide a temporary increase in the national average payment rate to Hawai‘i at a rate at least equal to the rate for Alaska — which receives a higher school meal reimbursement than the other outlying areas — until the study is completed and updated adjustments for school meal reimbursements for these areas are subsequently made,” the delegation wrote to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a request for the temporary increase.


The group highlighted the impacts of the agency relying on outdated data to determine reimbursement rates.

“While we support the study’s objective to provide a comprehensive, accurate accounting of the real costs associated with producing and supplying school meals, we are concerned that the current school meal reimbursement rate for Hawai‘i is not reflective of these costs, and that the state and its students are currently being negatively impacted,” the letter said.

The USDA calculations have not been updated since 1979 despite food and labor costs in Hawai‘i increasing substantially.


Based on the same methodology used in the original analysis and factoring in recent data on costs, the school meal reimbursement for Hawai‘i should be more than 60% above the national average payment, which is an increase of at least 43% above the rate Hawai‘i currently receives, the letter said.

The letter said that the USDA study will not produce results until at least 2026, and it’s unclear when updated school reimbursements would be finalized.

“As a result, Hawai‘i will continue to receive outdated, lower school meal reimbursements for several more years, which means tens of millions of dollars in federal funding lost for school meal programs in the state,” Hawai’i leaders wrote. 


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