USDA to allow schools to serve free meals this summer
Agriculture Sonny Perdue said today that schools that have been serving meals to kids during the coronavirus pandemic can continue serving free meals to all children – regardless of where they live – for the remainder of the summer.
“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy, and nutritious food. We are extending one of the significant flexibilities provided in March during the coronavirus national emergency to schools, summer sites, and other folks who operate our programs so they can best adapt to the situation on the ground and serve our children well,” said Perdue. “This nationwide flexibility ensures America’s kids will continue to be fed this summer.”
The nationwide waiver extended as part of today’s announcement is for area eligibility, which allows all children in all areas to receive free meals through USDA’s summer meals programs. Typically, USDA-funded summer meals sites are limited to low-income areas.
Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, said, “This is great news. Many districts were facing the prospect of significantly reducing their service and reach over the summer because many of their feeding sites were in non-area-eligible communities. COVID-related unemployment has dramatically changed demographics nationwide – so many communities that were not area eligible prior to COVID closures would qualify now. That’s why USDA issued the area eligibility waivers to begin with.”
USDA “had previously extended a few key waivers to allow summer meals to operate with some flexibility (e.g., non-congregate feeding, meal time waivers so you could serve breakfast and lunch in one pick-up, etc.), but we were all waiting on this area eligibility waiver to ensure that communities that previously weren’t allowed to participate in summer meals because they weren’t 50% FRP [free or reduced price] eligible could continue their COVID feeding operations.”
Pratt-Heavner noted that SNA, which represents the school meal providers and the companies that make school foods, had sent Perdue a letter last week asking for a continuation of the waiver.
“This is great progress and we really appreciate it,” said Katie Wilson of the Urban School Food Alliance. “It is necessary for us to keep feeding children during this crisis, but it is difficult when the waivers come sporadically and with different expiration dates (hard to keep track of everything) but we will take what we can get. A lot of hard work went into finally getting this one from a number of advocacy groups.”
Lisa Davis of Share Our Strength added: “USDA’s nationwide waiver of area eligibility requirements means school nutrition and emergency food assistance staff who are working tirelessly to feed kids across the nation can continue to provide meals to low-income children in all communities. This is particularly important given the staggering increase in food insecurity among families with children resulting from the economic impacts of COVID-19. Share Our Strength applauds the USDA for taking this action to empower schools and community organizations on the frontlines to better reach kids in need.”
But Davis also said Share Our Strength is also urging the Senate to extend Pandemic EBT, increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and increase funding for school meals programs.
–The Hagstrom Report