The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the agency will be extending free meal programs for children through as late as December 31. The flexibilities being enacted will provide a means for summer meal program operators to continue through the coming months. USDA has expressed its commitment to overcoming the challenges of offering nutritious food to children amidst the complications caused by COVID-19.
“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,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a news release.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is extending a series of waivers for the Summer Food Service Program along with the Seamless Summer Option through the end of the year, or until available funding is exhausted. Some of the free meal program waivers include allowing guardians to pick up meals for their children. The required group settings and mealtime requirements are being waived, along with meal pattern requirements. The waiver extensions are based on data estimations from USDA. The agency will continue to evaluate the programs to allow for recalculations of budgetary commitments. Congress has not authorized enough funding support to cover the entire 2020-2021 school year.
“We appreciate the incredible efforts by our school foodservice professionals year in and year out, but this year we have an unprecedented situation,” Perdue noted. “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.”