USDA extends waiver, expands access to meals for children amid COVID-19

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 1:00pm

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new nationwide waiver allowing schools and other meal sites to continue serving nutritious meals to all children for the remainder of the summer.

    Without an extension, this program would no longer have been available to more than 60 percent of Maine children currently receiving these meals, according to a news release. 

    “With schools closed and families experiencing increasing financial pressure due to COVID-19, communities are faced with new and unique challenges related to food security.  More than 82,000 Maine students qualify for free or reduced price meals, and we pushed USDA to remove any barriers that could prevent Maine students from accessing critical nutrition during this pandemic,” said Senators Susan Collins and Angus King as well as Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden in a joint statement. “Extending program flexibilities to keep meal sites in Maine open and able to serve all children for the remainder of this summer will help ensure that no child goes hungry as a result of the pandemic.”

    During the regular school year, the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs provide nearly 225,000 meals daily to children across Maine; however, typically, USDA funded summer meals sites are limited to low-income areas. 

    Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of Maine school districts were not able to operate open meal sites — where meals are served free to any child without registration when school is out of session — if less than 50 percent of the children in their areas met the income qualifications, per the release.

    In response to the unprecedented public health and economic crisis, the Maine Delegation wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on March 22, urging him to use his authority under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to allow meal sites in Maine to serve free meals to children in all areas. 

    Following the Delegation’s letter, Maine received a waiver through June 30.  

    On May 29, the Maine Delegation again wrote USDA Secretary Perdue in support of Maine’s request for an extension of this critical waiver through the summer. 

    The waiver extension granted by USDA will ensure that the more than 82,000 students in Maine who depend on the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program for nutritious meals, in addition to any child who is now in need as a result of COVID-19, can continue to receive them through August 31, despite the absence of traditional school meals and summer activity programs amid the coronavirus pandemic.