This week, U.S. Agriculture Sec. Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will extend flexibilities in order to allow summer meal programs to offer free meals for children through the end of the year.

When he announced the extensions on Monday, Perdue said the coronavirus pandemic helped shape his decision.

“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,” said Perdue.

“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,” Perdue added.

“School Nutrition Association greatly appreciates USDA addressing the critical challenges shared by our members serving students on the frontlines these first weeks of school. 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 (SNA) 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.”

Perdue authorized USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to extend the waivers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through the end of 2020, keeping almost 80,000 sites open across the country.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried cheered the news.

“As we continue navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s crucial that we continue to prioritize fighting food insecurity among students, and that means making sure Florida’s children aren’t wondering where their next meal will come from,” Fried said on Tuesday. “We’re grateful that the USDA has extended these waivers, allowing summer meal program operators to continue providing healthy, nutritious meal options for students. FDACS remains focused on supporting Florida’s students and families — we will get through these challenging times together.”

Fried has been active on the matter, activating the 2-1-1 hotline so Floridians can find locations near them offering free meals for children. She has also been pushing the Florida congressional delegation in support of free meals for children.


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