USDA extends summer meal program model to end of calendar year

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today extended through Dec. 31 its authorization for school districts to continue serving free meals to all children.  

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the extension of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through the end of 2020 “or when funding runs out.” The programs, which school districts in Kansas and nationwide have used to feed increasing numbers of needy students during the COVID-19 pandemic, were set to expire Tuesday (Sept. 1) as the 2020-21 school year begins.  

School nutrition and school board association advocates have been lobbying the Department throughout the summer for the two programs (and other important measures) to be extended.  

The waivers extended today allow meals to be served in all areas and at no cost; permit meals to be served outside of typical group settings and meal times and outside of meal pattern requirements as necessary; and allow parents and guardians to pick up meals for their children.  

“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy, and nutritious food. During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibilities to help schools feed kids through the school meal programs, and today, we are also extending summer meal program flexibilities for as long as we can, legally and financially,” Perdue said in a statement this morning. “We appreciate the incredible efforts by our school foodservice professionals year in and year out, but this year we have an unprecedented situation. This extension of summer program authority will employ summer program sponsors to ensure meals are reaching all children – whether they are learning in the classroom or virtually –  so they are fed and ready to learn, even in new and ever-changing learning environments. 

“These waivers will allow school nutrition professionals to focus on nourishing hungry children for success, rather than scrambling to process paperwork and verify eligibility in the midst of a pandemic.” said School Nutrition Association President Reggie Ross. “We look forward to continuing our dialogue with USDA to ensure school meal programs are equipped to meet the future needs of America’s students.”  

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