WTAS: USDA Extends Free Meals for Kids Through December 31, 2020
Washington, DC, September 8, 2020 – Last week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced 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. USDA has been and continues to be committed to using the Congressionally appropriated funding that has been made available.
Here is what they are saying about the USDA's unprecedented move:
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): “I'm grateful to Secretary Perdue and the entire Trump administration for helping protect Kentucky's children during this pandemic. Young people should focus on learning and staying safe during these uncertain times, not on where they'll find their next meal. With the additional flexibility and increased access to federally-supported food programs, Kentucky's children can learn and thrive whether they are in the classroom or learning from home.”
School Nutrition Association (SNA) President Reggie Ross, SNS: “These waivers ensure schools can continue to safely meet students' nutritional needs this fall. In the midst of a pandemic, no family should have to worry about their child missing out on healthy school breakfast or lunch. School meal programs face unprecedented challenges and need the assurance that these critical waivers will be available through the entire school year. SNA will continue working with USDA and Congress to further extend these waivers to support school meal programs and the students we serve.”
Lindsay Aguilar, RD, SNS, Director of Food Services for Tucson Unified School District, AZ:“Today's announcement brings a huge relief to our school meal program and the community we serve. Many of our families who might not qualify for free meals are still going through a tough time and are worried about how to keep food on the table. Now their children will have one less thing to worry about as they adjust to evolving in-school and remote learning scenarios. These waivers also eliminate a massive administrative burden for our school nutrition staff, allowing them to focus on feeding children.”
Chris Burkhardt, SNS, Executive Director of School Nutrition for Cleveland Metropolitan School District, OH:“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. 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.”
Sen. Rob Portman (OH): “I am pleased that @SecretarySonny & the @USDA extended flexibilities under the summer meals programs through the end of the year to help ensure children have access to nutritious food as we continue to battle this #COVID19 pandemic and its economic impact.”
Sen. John Hoeven (ND): “We appreciate USDA extending this waiver through the end of the year to provide relief to our schools, families and communities. As schools in North Dakota, and across the country, work hard to ensure a safe return to school, this announcement will enable children to receive nutritious food whether attending school in the classroom or remotely.”
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS): "Thank you @USDA @SecretarySonny for approving the nutrition waiver extensions! Now children will continue to receive meals throughout the fall semester, whether classes are in person, online, or a hybrid.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (KS): “I appreciate Secretary Perdue exercising the Department's emergency authority to assist school food authorities and non-school sponsoring organizations to provide children with meals while schools begin various models of in-person and virtual classroom sessions under the COVID-19 emergency conditions. I applaud USDA's work with state agencies, schools, and non-school sponsoring organizations to collaboratively provide meals through the Department's child nutrition programs when schools were unexpectedly closed in the spring, through the summer, and now again as schools wrestle with these challenges as the school year begins.”
Sen. Thom Tillis (NC): “The shift to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused uncertainty for thousands of children who rely on school nutrition programs,” said Senator Tillis. “Thank you to Secretary Perdue and the USDA for providing flexibility for these important programs to ensure we can provide meals to students in need.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (WV): “Our students deserve to have food in their bellies no matter their circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of students in West Virginia and across the country who rely on meals through the school system and I applaud USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue for extending the meal program flexibilities for our students. Ensuring every student is fed and cared for is critical, especially in the middle of this pandemic. As we continue to face these unprecedented times together, the safety and security of our students must be a top priority.”
Sen. John Boozman (AR): “I applaud Secretary Perdue for taking action to ensure students have access to healthy, nutritious meals through USDA's child nutrition programs this school year. The coronavirus has created many challenges and anxieties for Arkansas families that have not subsided. This action will provide welcome relief for parents as their children return to school.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (WV): “Teachers, students, and parents alike have all had to embrace flexibility leading into the school year. I'm glad to see USDA adapting with that same flexibility. Children may feel uncertain about many things this year, but this announcement means they will not feel uncertain about their next nutritious meal.”
Rep. Chris Jacobs (NY): “Thank you @SecretarySonny for authorizing flexibilities in Child Nutrition Programs so schools can be better prepared to cater to the needs of our students and ensure students and families can fully focus on learning in this unprecedented time.”
Rep. GT Thompson (PA): "This is good news and a great step towards providing more food security for all children.”
Rep Doug Collins (GA): “Good news → @USDA is extending its summer meal program to help feed children across the country. By providing access to safe and nutritious food in the midst of a pandemic, @SecretarySonny remains committed to preparing our students for success!”
Rep. Virginia Fox (NC): “As instruction for the upcoming school year begins, schools and families should have the flexibilities they need to ensure students have access to nutritious meals. Today's announcement from Secretary Perdue to extend the school nutrition program waivers is a critical step in achieving our shared goal of providing nutritious meals to students in need during COVID-19. By implementing these necessary flexibilities, federal programs that help feed students during these difficult times will remain easy to operate and free of unnecessary burdens. I applaud Secretary Perdue for today's announcement and the Trump administration for their commitment to American families and students.”
Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles: “I am grateful to Secretary Perdue for extending flexibilities to schools and other organizations to serve meals to children during the coronavirus pandemic.”
Bracken County Schools Superintendent Jeff Aulick: “I am very pleased to hear that the meal program has been extended through the end of the year. Our staff has served over 75,000 meals since March 13, 2020, and worked hard to meet the needs of the children within Bracken County.”
Fleming County Schools Superintendent Brian Creasman said: “The USDA's Waiver will go a long way to ensuring that students are fed as we reopen schools.”
USDA extends free meal program for children through end of the year (CNN): The Department of Agriculture announced Monday that it is extending and expanding a critical food assistance program that has been providing free meals to millions of children during the coronavirus pandemic. USDA said that in the last six months, "partners across the country have stood up nearly 80,000 sites" for meal distribution. The department typically distributes meals to just under 30 million students each day. USDA said the changes come in response to "the needs of its stakeholders, who have shared concerns about continuing to reach those in need."
Perdue: School meals program extended through December for all students (FOX24 and ABC 16): Perdue visited Bonaire Elementary where he announced that all the UDA will extend several flexibilities that will allow summer meal program operators to continue to serve free meals to all children into the fall months. The program will allow every child to eat free through December 31, no matter the child's economic circumstances… In addition, Perdue says the extension will allow schools to ensure access to local meal sites throughout the nation. "These sites will exist in schools just like this one and community settings where schools have not been able to reopen so students are fed and ready to learn, even in these new and ever-changing learning environments," said Perdue.
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. This includes:
- 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. USDA is taking this unprecedented action to respond to the needs of its stakeholders, who have shared concerns about continuing to reach those in need without enlisting the help of traditional summer sites located throughout communities across the US. 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.
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. USDA has continuously recalculated remaining appropriated funds to determine how far we may be able to provide waivers into the future, as Congress did not authorize enough funding for the entire 2020-2021 school year. Reporting activities are delayed due to States responding to the pandemic; however based upon the April data we currently have available, FNS projects that it could offer this extension, contingent on funding, for the remaining months of 2020. USDA will continue to actively monitor this rapidly evolving situation and continue to keep Congress informed of our current abilities and limitations.
Since the start of the public health emergency, FNS has been maximizing existing program services and flexibilities to ensure those in need have access to food through our 15 federal nutrition assistance programs. To date, USDA has provided more than 3,000 flexibilities across these programs. USDA has also leveraged new and innovative approaches to feeding kids, including a public-private partnershipthat provided nearly 40 million meals directly to the doorsteps of low-income rural children. For more information on FNS' response to COVID-19, visit fns.usda.gov/coronavirus.
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