USDA will allow free school meals to be available to children through the rest of the school year, the department announced Friday.

“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,” Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a news release

The waivers permit schools “to continue allowing parents to collect multiple days worth of grab-and-go meals at curbside pick-up locations, so distance learners can safely and conveniently access meals for the week,” the School Nutrition Association (SNA) explained.

USDA had previously extended child nutrition waivers through December 2020, “based upon available funding at the time,” the department said. The recently passed Continuing Resolution gave USDA the authority and funding to take the action it did Friday.

“The flexibilities extended today 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 said.

SNA applauded the move. "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 Nutrition Association President Reggie Ross said. “School meal programs can remain focused on safely meeting nutritional needs of children in their communities without having to worry about burdensome regulations."

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SNA had urged USDA earlier this year to extend the waivers for the entire academic year to allow schools “to serve all students school breakfast and lunch at no charge to best support social distancing measures, whether service is in the cafeteria, the classroom or at curbside pick-up,” the group said back in July.

“School nutrition directors, facing persistent supply chain disruptions, needed certainty on the availability of the waivers to place orders for the spring and plan menus for the months ahead,” SNA said. “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.”

The association also is urging Congress “to provide much needed emergency financial relief to school meal programs to cover higher costs and financial losses associated with COVID-19 closures,” it said. “SNA urges swift passage of Heroes Act 2.0, which provides emergency relief funds.”

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