Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

CN Program Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic, July 2020 - Dec. 2021

Resource type
Research, Analysis & Background
Research type
Assessing/Improving Operations
Participation Characteristics
Participation Rates
Policy Analysis
Program Access
Resource Materials
PDF Icon Summary (307.67 KB)
PDF Icon Final Report (2.46 MB)

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service’s (FNS) Child Nutrition (CN) programs help ensure that children have access to nutritious meals. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) operate in schools and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) operates in childcare settings. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person education and childcare services, and therefore NSLP, SBP, and CACFP operations, from spring 2020 through the next two school years.

In response, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), signed into law March 18, 2020, gave FNS authority to issue nationwide waivers of CN program requirements. The waivers authorized the use of the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to serve all meals for free during non-summer months, allowed new meal service methods that prioritized access and safety, and had streamlined administrative requirements.

FFCRA required states to report the use of each waiver and whether and how it improved services for CN program participants. This data collection fulfills states’ reporting requirements and describes trends in program participation and operations from July 2020 through Dec. 2021. It is part of an ongoing series examining CN program operations, repurposed to collect waiver reports from states. A previous report in the series detailed waiver usage and trends in program participation in operations from March through September 2020.

Key Findings

  • Nearly all (90 percent) of SFAs reported using a COVID-19 waiver flexibility in SY 2020–21. FNS waivers contributed to greater access to healthy meals across all CNPs.
  • Area Eligibility waivers were key to improving access to meals through CACFP and SFSP in SY 2020–21 and summer 2021.
  • School food authorities reported three persistent challenges during SY 2020–21 and fall 2021: supply chain issues and food shortages; staffing; and obtaining meal packaging.
  • By Sept. 2021 (when most students returned to full time in school instruction and meals were served for free due to the COVID-19 waivers) the number of meals served through NSLP, SBP, SSO, and SFSP had returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Page updated: April 30, 2024