This week, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried applauded a decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue a nationwide extension of several waivers that allow all children to continue to receive nutritious meals this summer when schools are out of session. These flexibilities are now available through September 30, 2021.
USDA is extending these waivers to provide local program operators with clarity and certainty for the summer months ahead when many children cannot access the school meals they depend on during the academic year. The waivers were previously extended only through June 30, 2021.
“One of my top priorities has always been ensuring all Florida children have access to healthy, nutritious meals regardless of family income,” said Fried. “Up to one in five Floridians are facing food insecurity because of this pandemic, including hundreds of thousands of kids. I thank Secretary Vilsack and the USDA for giving our schools the flexibility and resources needed to continue feeding Florida’s kids throughout the summer – because for many kids, these meals are the only ones on which they can rely.”
The waivers extended this week allow for safe meal distribution sites that serve all children for free, regardless of income. In addition, the waivers:
- Allow meals served through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) – collectively known as “summer meal programs” – to be made available in all areas at no cost;
- Allow meals to be served outside of the normally required group settings and meal times; and
- Allow parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children, including bulk pick-up to cover multiple days of feeding children.
Right now, up to 12 million children are living in households where they may not always have enough to eat – including more than 850,000 children in Florida. These critically needed summer meals will provide relief to many children in families who have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and are fighting daily to put food on the table.
Summer meal sites are places where children and youth age 18 and under can receive meals at no cost in a safe environment. The meals are also available to persons over age 18 with mental or physical disabilities. Sites may be located in a variety of settings including schools, parks, community centers, libraries, churches, and more.
USDA is issuing this guidance as early as possible to empower communities to establish as many meal sites as they can effectively manage this summer.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services oversees the state’s $1.3 billion school meals program, serving 319 million meals to nearly 3 million Florida children, as well as the Summer BreakSpot summer feeding program and emergency food programs for seniors and low-income families. When schools closed due to COVID-19, Fried activated the BreakSpot program early, helping serve 74 million meals to Florida kids from March through August 2020.