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Free meals for children extended

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture is extending flexibilities to allow free meals to continue to be available to all children throughout the entire 2020-21 school year, according to a press release. The move is part of USDA’s commitment to ensuring all children across America have access to nutritious food as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the release stated.

“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,” Perdue said. “We are grateful for the heroic efforts by our school food service professionals who are consistently serving healthy meals to kids during these trying times, and we know they need maximum flexibility right now.” 

The USDA previously extended child nutrition waivers through December 2020 based upon available funding at the time. The flexibilities extended recently will allow schools and other local program operators to continue to leverage the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option to provide no cost meals to all children, available at over 90,000 sites across the country, through June 30, 2021.   

USDA is extending waivers through June 30, 2021, that: 

• Allow SFSP and SSO meals to be served in all areas and at no cost

• Permit meals to be served outside of the typically required group settings and meal times

• Waive meal pattern requirements, as necessary

• Allow parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children.

The program flexibilities allow schools and local program operators to operate a meal service model that best meets their community’s unique needs, while keeping children and staff safe, the release stated. Additional flexibilities are being granted on a state-by-state basis, as required by law, to facilitate a wide range of meal service options and accommodate other operational needs.

Early in the pandemic, USDA adapted its summer feeding site finder to ensure parents and children would be able to easily locate sites that were providing meal service. With the new announcement, the Meals for Kids interactive site finder will continue to collect data, voluntarily provided by USDA’s state agency partners, about operating sites including location, meal service times and additional information.