USDA Extends Free Meals for Kids Through Year-end & Allows Summer Meals to Continue
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced they will extend free meals for kids through Dec. 31, and will continue to allow summer meal program operators to serve free meals to all children into the fall months. This will help ensure that children have access to nutritious food as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are happy about this action that comes none too soon,” said LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale. Earlier provisions for getting nutrition assistance to children were expiring as schools re-opened. “Our advocates who see families struggling to put food on the table in this pandemic were pushing for these extensions. We are grateful for their persistence, aware that we can’t take our eyes off of the need. Congress must ensure that funding lasts as long as children are hungry — and that will likely be through this school year.”
The School Nutrition Association “greatly appreciates USDA addressing the critical challenges shared by our members serving students on the frontlines these first weeks of school. These waivers will allow school nutrition professionals to focus on nourishing hungry children for success, rather than scrambling to process paperwork and verify eligibility in the midst of a pandemic.” said School Nutrition Association (SNA) President Reggie Ross, SNS. “We look forward to continuing our dialogue with USDA to ensure school meal programs are equipped to meet the future needs of America’s students.”
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is extending a suite of nationwide waivers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through the end of 2020, or until available funding runs out. This includes:
• Allowing SFSP and SSO meals to be served in all areas and at no cost;
• Permitting meals to be served outside of the typically-required group settings and meal times;
• Waiving meal pattern requirements as necessary; and
• Allowing parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children.
Collectively, these flexibilities ensure meal options for children continue to be available so children can access meals under all circumstances. USDA is taking this unprecedented action to respond to the needs of its stakeholders, who have shared concerns about continuing to reach those in need without enlisting the help of traditional summer sites located throughout communities across the US. While there have been some well-meaning people asking USDA to fund this through the entire 2020-2021 school year, we are obligated to not spend more than is appropriated by Congress.
Importantly, the summer meal program waiver extensions are based on current data estimations. Over the past six months, partners across the country have stood up nearly 80,000 sites, handing out meals at a higher reimbursement rate than the traditional school year program. USDA has continuously recalculated remaining appropriated funds to determine how far we may be able to provide waivers into the future, as Congress did not authorize enough funding for the entire 2020-2021 school year. Reporting activities are delayed due to States responding to the pandemic; however based upon the April data we currently have available, FNS projects that it could offer this extension, contingent on funding, for the remaining months of 2020. USDA will continue to actively monitor this rapidly evolving situation and continue to keep Congress informed of our current abilities and limitations.
Since the start of the public health emergency, FNS has been maximizing existing program services and flexibilities to ensure those in need have access to food through their 15 federal nutrition assistance programs. To date, USDA has provided more than 3,000 flexibilities across these programs. USDA has also leveraged new and innovative approaches to feeding kids, including a public-private partnership that provided nearly 40 million meals directly to the doorsteps of low-income rural children.