According to Education Dive, a “non-congregate” waiver has been extended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service that will allow for school districts’ grab-and-go meal-service locations (school meal sites) to continue through the summer.
Since March, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has done great work using the program flexibilities and new authorities granted by Congress to make it as easy as possible for children to receive food through the department’s nutrition assistance programs during the national health emergency by provided school meal sites. This most recent announcement extends three key flexibilities that will allow current operations to continue without disruption and ensure states and program operators have time to plan for continued operations throughout the summer. The first, as noted, extends the program through the second, while the second and third waivers provide for parents to pick up meals for their children and allows for flexibility as to when meals are served. This way, families don’t have to make multiple trips to the location for pick-ups.
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement, “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.”
Recently released data from the School Nutrition Association (SNA), which tallied responses from nearly 1,900 school districts across the United States, showed that 81% are making use of drive-through pick-up sites, while 58% allow families to walk up, 42% are delivering meals to homes, and 32% are making use of school district buses for distribution.
Various advocacy organizations, including SNA and No Kid Hungry, voiced concerns that if waivers were discontinued, school districts would not be able to continue serving meals because of the remaining stay-at-home orders that exist in varying degrees across the nation as states slowly reopen. Additionally, several summer programs and facilities that would generally provide meals, for instance camps and libraries, have been forced to cancel due to the ongoing health crisis.
“Extending these waivers will give schools and local organizations more of the necessary resources and flexibilities they need to continue to operate meal programs safely, effectively and efficiently,” according to a statement from No Kid Hungry. “Summer is already one of the hungriest times of the year for many kids as they lose access to free and low-cost school meals. This year, we are facing skyrocketing need, as the COVID-19 crisis continues to push millions of families into poverty and hunger.”
The survey above conducted by SNA also showed an unfortunate statistic – that 80% of respondents say their district is serving fewer meals at the school meal sites than they would normally if the schools were open. Ninety percent responded that financial loss was a moderate-to-serious concern, and 861 of the districts estimated the revenue decline at more than $626.4 million for the current school year. Accordingly, SNA is advocating for passage of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, which includes $3 billion to help offset some of that loss in revenue. The House of Representatives recently passed the $3 trillion package, and this bill now waits approval through the United States Senate. Regardless of the outcome of that bill, families can rest assured that meals will be as easily accessible through the summer months.
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