The Agriculture Department announced Monday that schools can continue serving meals to all students at no charge until the end of the year or until the available funding runs out. 

USDA is extending waivers issued under its summer feeding program authority that have allowed schools to provide grab-and-go meals to all children during the COVID-19 crisis. Continuing the waivers will ensure kids have access to meals while learning online this fall. 

“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,” Perdue said.

Reggie Ross, president of the School Nutrition Association, which represents school feeding programs, said the USDA action 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.”

In July, SNA warned Perdue in a letter that limiting schools to feeding students through the federally subsidized, on-site lunch and breakfast programs would cause many needy students to go without school meals and greatly complicate meal service, raising the risk of COVID-19 exposure during meal distribution. 

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SNA had asked USDA to extend the emergency feeding authority through the entire school year, but the department declined, citing uncertainty about funding. 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, pressed Perdue to continue the program through the spring. 

“Because many schools will need this certainty to continue, I encourage the department to take the next step and extend these flexibilities for the full school year,” she said Monday.