Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and four other members of Congress on Tuesday urged lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to extend the MEALS Act, which provides free meals to more than 20 million children and is set to expire at the end of June.

Standing outside the U.S. Capitol with four of her colleagues, Omar urged congressional leaders and other countries to act now as Russia’s war in Ukraine fuels food shortages.

“Food prices are expected to rise 7.5% this year stretching already tight family budgets,” Omar said as she pushed Congress to extend student waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I passed the MEALS Act to stave off the hunger crisis and it worked. About 30 million kids are estimated to have received free meals,” Omar said. “But that is expiring at the end of the month.”

Omar said more than 38 million people in the United States, including 12 million children, are currently food insecure, noting that she remembered what it was like going hungry years ago.

“When I was a child at a refugee camp, I distinctively remember the vacant feeling of going to bed on an empty stomach while my family did not have enough food to feed us,” Omar said.

Omar said 49 million people around the world now face famine as she urged world leaders to take action.

“Internationally, while the United States has provided $2.6 billion dollars to help other countries with food shortages, other countries have not stepped up yet,” Omar said. “We must rally all world leaders to supply food and fertilizers, basic safety nets for those without food.”

Other leaders joined Omar to push for the MEALS Act extension, including Rep. Jamal Bowman, D-N.Y.

“What kind of a world are we actually living in? I believe this is the moment for us to evolve as a human race and do everything we can to fight issues like climate change,” Bowman said. “And to make sure every single child is nourished and fed and put on a pathway to thrive and be healthy and happy.”

Rep. Jesus Chuy Garcia, D-Ill., praised Omar’s MEALS Act, and urged leaders to extend the program, noting that the war in Ukraine has impacted supply chains and inflation in the United States is driving up the cost of food.

“It is so important for the federal government to step in and give schools the flexibility to make sure that all children are fed,” Garcia said. “These waivers allow schools for the first time to serve free meals to all students across the country regardless of income.”

Rep. Troy Carter, D-La., and Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich., were also on hand to support the school waivers extension amid what they called a “growing food crisis.”

“The horrible war that’s come down from Russia into Ukraine attacking our food supplies. It’s what keeps me up at night,” Stevens said. “Food costs are through the roof.”

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