U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) Sonny Perdue today announced the extension through August 31 of three nationwide waivers originally granted in early March that give child nutrition programs flexibility to continue to feed children while promoting social distancing and keeping families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The waivers being extended allow meals to be served to children outside of the normally required group setting to support social distancing, allow parents and/or guardians to pick up meals and bring them home to their children and waive requirements that meals be served at certain standard times, allowing for grab-and-go options and for multiple days’ worth of meals to be provided at once.
In addition to granting significant program flexibilities through both nationwide and individual state waivers, USDA’s Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) is rapidly approving states for Pandemic-EBT, which provides food-purchasing benefits, equal to the value of school meals, to households with children who would otherwise be receiving free or reduced-price meals at school. FNS has approved 26 plans and continues to review new plans as they are submitted.
“USDA has been extremely aggressive in expanding flexibilities to ensure Americans who have been impacted by the coronavirus continue to receive the food they need for themselves and their families,” Secretary Perdue in making the announcement. “As our nation reopens and people return to work, we want to continue to be flexible since there is not a one size fits all approach to feeding kids. Extending these waivers throughout the summer ensures local operators can make plans that best suit their communities and keep children fed.”
Throughout the pandemic, schools and local program sponsors have used flexibilities provided by USDA to find creative ways to feed kids such as setting up drive-thru pickups and delivering meals on bus routes while being faced with a variety of fiscal, operational and menu challenges. With the extension of these waivers, these innovative models can continue without interruption while state and local social distancing orders remain in place.