October 12, 2020
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is extending flexibilities to allow free meals to continue to be available to all children throughout the entire 2020-2021 school year.
“As our nation recovers and reopens, we want to ensure that children continue to receive the nutritious breakfasts and lunches they count on during the school year wherever they are, and however they are learning,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a news release.
According to the release, the wavers extended through June 30, 2021, are:
Area eligibility: allowing meals to be provided in areas that don’t meet the 50% area eligibility (typically 50% or more of students must qualify for free/reduced price meals to trigger free meals for all);
Non-Congregate Feeding: allowing meals to be served outside of group settings (grab and go, curbside, delivery, etc.);
Meal Service Times: allowing flexibility to distribute meals outside of standard times (sending a breakfast and lunch meal home with students for the next day’s virtual learning, etc.); and
Child Present Requirement: allowing parents or guardians to pick up meals at school to take home to children without the child being present at time of pickup.
The extension of the waivers was supported by the School Nutrition Association, the United Fresh Produce Association and other advocates of school nutrition programs.
“While it will be a challenging year for many schools regardless, this will go a long way to ensure kids are fed and participation can remain as high as possible,” Mollie Van Lieu, senior director of nutrition policy said at the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a member update. Van Lieu said schools have been asking the waivers to be extended through the full school year and United Fresh was supporting that as well.
"This is very positive news," she said Oct. 12.
Reggie Ross, president of the School Nutrition Association, said in a news release that struggling families can be assured that their students will have access to healthy school meals, whether they are learning at home or in school.
The waivers, he said in the release, will allow school districts to focus on meeting nutritional needs without worrying about regulations.
The School Nutrition Association is calling on Congress to provide emergency financial relief to school meal programs to cover higher costs and financial losses associated with COVID-19 closures, according to the release.