USDA Announces Extension of Free Meals for Children

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   U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced earlier this week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will extend several flexibilities through as late as December 31, 2020. The flexibilities allow summer meal program operators to continue serving free meals to all children into the fall months. This unprecedented move will help ensure – no matter what the situation is on-the-ground – children have access to nutritious food as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

  “As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy, and nutritious food. During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibilities to help schools feed kids through the school meal programs, and today, we are also extending summer meal program flexibilities for as long as we can, legally and financially,” said Secretary Perdue. “We appreciate the incredible efforts by our school foodservice professionals year in and year out, but this year we have an unprecedented situation. This extension of summer program authority will employ summer program sponsors to ensure meals are reaching all children – whether they are learning in the classroom or virtually – so they are fed and ready to learn, even in new and ever-changing learning environments.”

  “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.” 

   The waivers will include the following:  

•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. Importantly, the summer meal program waiver extensions announced today 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.

   For more information on FNS’ response to COVID-19, visit fns.usda.gov/coronavirus.