USDA Extends Free Meals for Children

( U.S. Department of Agriculture )

In an unprecedented move, USDA announced on Monday that it will extend the free summer meal program through as late as Dec. 31, 2020.
This decision will provide children access to nutritious food – regardless of their situation – as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a USDA release.

“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,” Secretary Perdue said in the release. 

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 in their homes – so they are fed and ready to learn, even in new and ever-changing learning environments, Perdue explained.

“These waivers will ensure every hungry child in the city of Cleveland has access to healthy school meals, while eliminating the burdensome, time consuming process of verifying and documenting enrollment,” Chris Burkhardt, SNS, Executive Director of School Nutrition for Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Ohio, said in the release. “Our school nutrition team had to develop and implement a bar code verification system this fall that has greatly complicated and slowed service. With these waivers, we’ll be able to speed up meal distribution for the safety of staff and families and ensure no student is denied access to healthy meals.”  

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. 

There is no word on the anticipated cost of this extension. The summer meal program waiver extensions are based on current data estimations. USDA said it has continuously recalculated remaining appropriated funds to determine how far it can provide waivers into the future, as Congress did not authorize enough funding for the entire 2020-2021 school year. 

“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,” USDA said in the release.

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