GOP Senator Considers Blocking School Meal Funding Over LGBTQ+ Rights

·3 min read
Kansas Senator Marshall next to a group of children eating school lunch.
Kansas Senator Marshall next to a group of children eating school lunch.

In response to a policy of the Biden administration that protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination, a Republican senator is considering scrapping a bipartisan deal to extend school meal funding. 

As funding for the program expires on June 30, Democrats are scrambling to pass the bill and send it to President Biden before the deadline. Without this bill, millions of children face hunger and food insecurity.

In contrast to previous attempts to extend the funds for a year, Republican leadership has not threatened to block these efforts this time, according to Politico. Instead, the rushed effort, which circumvents specific procedures, can be blocked by one senator who objects to it and forces a floor vote.

Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas told the outlet that he is "contemplating" opposing the new guidance from the Agriculture Department banning LGBTQ+ discrimination in programs receiving federal nutrition funds, including most school lunch programs. The $3 billion deal extends the pandemic-era program for three years.

Marshall and other Senate Republicans wrote to the Government Accountability Office objecting to the USDA's guidelines. 

Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Ron DeSantis of Florida, both considering running for the White House, are fighting the Biden administration over school funding in districts deemed unwelcoming to LGBTQ+ students, where the Department of Agriculture may withhold free and reduced lunch and other federal funds.

DeSantis, signed the "don't say gay" bill into law, decried the Biden administration as "trying to deny school lunch programs for states that don't do transgender ideology in schools."

DeSantis' outrage comes after Noem threatened to sue the Biden administration.

"President Biden is holding lunch money for poor Americans hostage in pursuit of his radical agenda,' Noem told the Argus Leader on June 2.

"He is insisting that we allow biological males to compete in girls' sports or else lose funding for SNAP and school lunch programs. South Dakota will continue to defend basic fairness so that our girls can compete and achieve."

Republican concerns primarily relate to USDA guidelines that prescribe policies for combating anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in nutrition programs.

“I'm just afraid that schools in Kansas won't have school lunches because of this administration's radical view on transgender issues,” Marshall told Politico. “And I'm afraid that they're going to raid the school lunch program over that issue.”

In reality, the USDA guidance doesn't cover bathroom access or sports participation policies — it deals with concerns such as being denied food based on an individual's gender identity. 

“USDA is committed to administering all its programs with equity and fairness and serving those in need with the highest dignity,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

“At the same time, we must recognize the vulnerability of the LGBTQ+ communities and provide them with an avenue to grieve any discrimination they face,” he added. “We hope that by standing firm against these inequities, we will help bring about much-needed change.”

Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Stacy Dean said, “Whether you are grocery shopping, standing in line at the school cafeteria, or picking up food from a food bank, you should be able to do so without fear of discrimination. No one should be denied access to nutritious food simply because of who they are or how they identify.”

Anti-hunger advocates say that during the Covid-19 pandemic, school meal funding prevented the worst escalation of childhood food insecurity. 

However, they warn that the upcoming budget cuts will increase hunger for millions of children.