The Department of Agriculture has extended certain school lunch flexibilities through the 2021-2022 school year including a waiver to allow schools to provide free meals to all children.

The waiver extensions carry through June 30, 2022; they were previously set to expire Sept. 30, 2021. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack called the move a “win-win for kids, parents and schools.”

 “States and districts wanted waivers extended to plan for safe reopening in the fall. USDA answered the call to help America’s schools and childcare institutions serve high-quality meals while being responsive to their local needs as children safely return to their regular routines,” he said. “This action also increases the reimbursement rate to school meal operators so they can serve healthy foods to our kids.”

Specifically, Tuesday’s action allows schools to serve meals through the Seamless Summer Option, which is typically only available during the summer. This allows for the free distribution as well as higher-than-normal reimbursements, “which will support them in serving the most nutritious meals possible while managing increased costs associated with pandemic-related operational and supply chain challenges,” the department noted in a release.

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The School Nutrition Association, which represents school nutrition professionals, cheered the move.

“These waiver extensions will ensure hungry students can receive the meals they need to succeed next school year,” said SNA President Reggie Ross. “School nutrition staff can focus on safely serving students without having to worry about meal applications or collecting payments. Families struggling to make ends meet will know their children are nourished and ready to learn.” 

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