As the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is responding to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, it is implementing a number of waivers and program adjustments to ensure Americans in need can access nutrition assistance during the crisis while maintaining recommended social distancing practices. Two pieces of legislation have detailed many of the program adjustments available to FNS.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 (PL 116-127) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (PL 116-136) provided a number of program adjustments and additional funding, respectively. The programs' authorizing legislation also allows for some waivers and flexibilities. The statutes describing these waivers and flexibilities also have reporting requirements.
The Department obtained approval through an emergency clearance to collect the information as described in this Notice (OMB-0854-0654; expiration 11/30/2020). USDA anticipates the need to collect the data beyond the expiration date and is seeking approval of this Information Collection Request in order to meet the continuing information collection and reporting requirements detailed in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, as well as program administration needs to implement the CARES Act of 2020.
Section 2302(a)(2) of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 (FFCRA), enacted March 18, 2020, allows the Department of Agriculture to adjust, at the request of state agencies or by guidance in consultation with one or more state agencies, issuance methods and application and reporting requirements under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, as amended, (FNA) to be consistent with what is practicable under actual conditions in affected areas. Section 2302(c) of FFCRA requires the Secretary of Agriculture to submit a report to Congress following the end of the public health emergency, including a description of the measures taken to address the food security needs of affected populations during the emergency, including any information or data supporting state agency requests, among other information not included in this information collection (IC).
Further, Section 2203(a)(1) allows state agencies administering the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to request a waiver of 17(d)(3)(C)(i) of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 USC 1786(d)(3)(C)(i)), which requires applicants be physically present in the clinic. Local agencies are required to submit a report detailing the use and benefits of this waiver within one year of use of such waiver, and state agencies are required to submit a summary report of local agency usage of waivers under this Section within 18 months. Section 2204(a)(1) gives state agencies administering WIC and the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) the opportunity to request a waiver or modification of qualified regulatory requirements from USDA if such requirements cannot be met due to COVID-19, and such waivers are necessary to provide assistance to WIC and WIC FMNP participants. State agencies are also required under this Section to provide a report to USDA no later than one year after such waivers were granted, detailing their use of the waiver and how it improved services to women, infants and children.
In addition, Title II of the FFRCA allows a number of adjustments to the Child Nutrition Programs and with those adjustments requires the states to report to the Secretary of Agriculture how they used the waivers and whether they improved services to children. In order to comply with the requirements of the FFRCA, FNS will ask the states to report the required data points on existing FNS forms. These data will be collected electronically using the existing remarks fields in the FNS Food Program Reporting System (FPRS).
In all the instances described above, the information collection includes burden on state agencies for requesting waivers due to COVID-19 and reporting to FNS evaluation data on how the waiver has impacted state operations, which is a requirement on states in FFRCA.
Additionally, FNS is asking state agencies to report the USDA commodities used during a disaster on a more frequent basis. This information is currently collected in an OMB approved form, the FNS-292A, Report of Commodity Distribution for Disaster Relief (OMB Control Number 0584-0594 Food Programs Reporting System, expiration July 31, 2023). State distributing agencies may release commodity or donated foods procured by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to disaster organizations to provide nutritional assistance to disaster victims. Under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 7 CFR 250.69(f), state distributing agencies shall provide a summary report to FNS within 45 days following termination of the disaster assistance, and maintain records of these reports and other information relating to disasters. OMB approved in an emergency collection (OMB 0584-0654, expiration 11/30/2020) for FNS to change the frequency of the collection of the commodity reports from 45 days after the completion of the disaster, to a weekly basis. This change was requested due to the number of requests and the burden of the FNS regional offices. Additionally, this request is being requested in order for FNS Food Distribution (FD) staff to monitor levels of USDA commodities more frequently to ensure states have access to USDA commodities in the coming weeks.