USDA extends critical nutrition waivers through end of school year

In a major victory for public schools and the millions of students they serve, the United States Department of Agriculture on Oct. 9 announced that it is extending flexibilities to allow free meals to continue to be available to all children throughout the entire 2020–21 school year. This will help to ensure that children have access to the nutritious food they need regardless of whether their campus is open for in-person instruction.

Originally set to expire at the end of the 2020 calendar year — a dangerous scenario advocated against by CSBA and many other advocacy groups — the USDA was authorized to extend these waivers in the federal continuing resolution.

Through June 30, 2021, the USDA is extending waivers that:

  1. allow Summer Food Service Program and Summer Seamless Option meals to be served in all areas and at no cost;
  2. permit meals to be served outside of the typically required group settings and meal times;
  3. waive meal pattern requirements, as necessary; and
  4. allow parents and guardians to pick up meals for their children.

CSBA, as part of a nutrition coalition, was among a number of organizations which wrote the USDA and Congressional leaders in support of extending the waivers that will allow local educational agencies to continue to provide nutritious meals to children during this time of extreme uncertainty. The waivers also speed up meal distribution, reducing contact between students and staff and improving safety by eliminating requirements to collect payment or verify student eligibility for free meals.

“These waiver extensions are great news for America’s students and the school nutrition professionals working so hard to support them throughout this pandemic,” School Nutrition Association President Reggie Ross said in a statement. “Families struggling to make ends meet can be assured that their students will have access to healthy school meals, whether they are learning at home or in school. School meal programs can remain focused on safely meeting nutritional needs of children in their communities without having to worry about burdensome regulations.”

The California Department of Education announced it will provide additional information about the waivers in an Oct. 20 School Nutrition Town Hall webinar.