October 26, 2020

USDA Extends Free Schools Meals

USDA Extends Free Schools Meals Until End of School Year

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that USDA is extending flexibilities to allow free meals to continue to be available to all children throughout the 2020-2021 school year, ending June 30, 2021. The announcement comes as the nation is struggling with our new reality of COVID-19. The previous wavier ended in December 2020.

“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,” said Secretary Perdue in a press release. “We are grateful for the heroic efforts by our school foodservice professionals who are consistently serving healthy meals to kids during these trying times, and we know they need maximum flexibility right now. I appreciate President Trump for his unwavering commitment to ensuring kids receive the food they need during this pandemic and for supporting USDA in continuing to provide these unprecedented flexibilities.”  

The announcement comes after over 80 lawmakers sent a letter to the secretary urging the extension of the flexibilities. “With schools adapting to completely virtual and hybrid plans, food service staff will undoubtedly need to rely on program flexibilities this year. Without the waivers, there will be lasting effects on the well-being and academic success of students.” The letter states. School Nutrition Association President Reggie Ross, SNS, noted the importance of the extension, stating,  “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 meal programs can remain focused on safely meeting the nutritional needs of children in their communities without having to worry about burdensome regulations. The School Nutrition Association appreciates USDA’s ongoing efforts to address the many challenges our members have faced while working on the frontlines to feed hungry children.” 

The importance of free school meals is outlined in the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) report. According to ERS, free school lunch and breakfast participation rose between 2009 and 2019. During this time, free breakfast participation grew by 3.7 million, and free lunch participation increased by 16.3 million. The study notes that increased free lunch and breakfast participation may be related to the establishment of the Community Eligibility Provision, as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which allows eligible schools that serve high concentrations of students from low-income households to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students.